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Stars and bars

Kiefer Sutherland's breakout role: a celebrity criminal who makes more than a cameo appearance in jail.

December 21, 2007

Not since Jack Bauer was tortured in a Chinese prison has America been so vulnerable or the streets of Los Angeles so safe. The fictional super-agent, or rather Kiefer Sutherland, the actor who plays him in the series "24," is behind bars. Starlets such as Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie still get behind the wheel in this town, having spent only minutes in jail for their intoxicated driving, so it's anyone's guess as to whether they have mended their dangerous ways. But Bauer, or rather Sutherland, was nailed. Forty-eight days. In Glendale!

City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo finally got an intoxicated celeb motorist to do some time, but it took a rare confluence of events. Just because Glendale's shiny new jail has its red carpet rolled out and its velvet rope down, it doesn't guarantee housing for all drinking-and-driving A-listers.

For one thing, people arrested and convicted of misdemeanors in Los Angeles County are turned over to the custody of Sheriff Lee Baca, who runs the county jail system. As everyone who follows celebrity gossip knows, Baca's jails are so packed that he can't possibly keep the young, nubile and tipsy Hollywood set for more than a cursory pass-through, no matter how hazardous they are in the driver's seat. Delgadillo's crusading celebrity muckraking notwithstanding, it took an angry judge and scornful talk shows to make Baca keep Paris Hilton for half of her 45-day sentence. Richie served 82 minutes, Lohan 84. Michelle Rodriguez did hard time of 4 hours and 20 minutes.

To escape from Baca's gentle clutches, the defendant has to agree to be sentenced to Glendale -- or one of the handful of other city jails in Southern California open for more than overnight business. Let's see: county jail and no more than half the sentence, and more likely something short of an hour and a half, or city jail and the whole stint? County, please.

Unless, of course, you'd like a little privacy and a chance to get your head together. And there's a writers strike on, so your show's new season isn't in production anyway. And you play such a tough, terrorist-torturing patriot that your jailers will be in awe of you, and your image will be enhanced by serving out your term. Some celebrities pay big bucks for similar experiences at Trappist monasteries or Zen retreats. Sutherland has this whole thing figured out.

But if you don't have a current series or film deal, you may not be offered Glendale. Rodriguez, the former "Lost" star who served less than a day last year, failed to perform her ordered community service and so is expected to report to Baca's jail on Christmas Eve for a 180-day stretch. There is an angry judge, so Rodriguez may be one of the rare celebrity inmates to serve out her time in county custody.

As Paris would say, "It's not right."

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