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Judge to review inquiry into leaks in Pellicano case

January 23, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge Monday said she would personally review the government's investigation into the disclosure of confidential documents in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping case, amid claims that the latest leak was triggered by a previously unreported FBI interview of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer's decision followed an acrimonious hearing at which attorneys for Pellicano and for Kerkorian's longtime attorney, Terry Christensen, complained that the leaks to the New York Times had severely hurt their clients' rights to a fair trial.

The defense attorneys also pointedly questioned why authorities had not identified the source of the leaks after nine months of investigation.

"This is horrendous," Christensen's attorney, Terree Bowers, said of the leaks. "It is trampling on Mr. Christensen's presumption of innocence."

Last April, the judge issued a protective order to prevent the disclosure of evidence compiled against Pellicano, Christensen and six other co-defendants in a wide-ranging wiretapping case that has rocked legal and Hollywood circles. After the New York Times printed the first of several articles that quoted sealed FBI interview reports in the case, the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego opened an investigation into the leaks.

Two weeks ago, the newspaper published -- and posted on its website -- excerpts from audio recordings of conversations between Pellicano and Christensen. Attorneys for Christensen had challenged the government's right to use the recordings against their client on the grounds of attorney-client privilege. At the time, they also argued that authorities were so concerned about the tapes' admissibility that they had interviewed Kerkorian "in what appears to be an illicit attempt to get him to inadvertently waive the attorney-client privilege."

In the latest court documents, Bowers suggested that the government, fearing that the tapes might be ruled inadmissible, had decided to leak them.

"Faced with such a result, it is most likely that someone from the prosecution took this illegal and drastic step of ensuring that members of the public got to see excerpts and listen to the recordings," Bowers said in the latest court filing.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said, "We have honored at all times Mr. Kerkorian's claim of attorney-client privilege."

Mrozek said he would not comment on what he called "the latest conspiracy theory being floated by people associated with the defense."

San Diego Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Ciaffa, who is directing the leak investigation, said he would not comment about that probe while it is underway. As is standard practice, the leak investigation is being conducted by another U.S. attorney's office to ensure its independence.

A spokeswoman for Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. declined comment about the interview, which sources say lasted about two hours.

Bowers urged Judge Fischer to hold a hearing on the leaks, and to subpoena the New York Times reporters to testify. To bolster his argument, Bowers cited the BALCO case, in which two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle face 18 months in federal prison for refusing to disclose who leaked them grand jury testimony about steroid use in professional sports. In court documents, Bowers also charged that the government's investigation of his client "has been fraught with government deceit, obfuscation, sensationalism and injustice from the minute [it] began."

Catherine J. Mathis, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, said the newspaper would continue to assert the reporters' right not to reveal how they obtained the court documents and recordings.

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