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Christensen gets hearing in Pellicano case

The entertainment attorney will have a chance to challenge evidence tying him to the ex-Hollywood private eye's dealings.

July 31, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Well-known entertainment attorney Terry N. Christensen will be granted a court hearing to challenge crucial evidence linking him to the alleged racketeering and wiretap enterprise of former Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano, a federal judge ruled Monday.

At the same time, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer told Pellicano's attorneys that she would not authorize a proposed subpoena of the district attorney's records about Pellicano unless it was more narrowly focused on specific evidence the lawyers want to review.

Fischer's ruling about Christensen will allow his attorneys a chance to prove that Pellicano's secret tape recordings of their client were part of an ongoing criminal conspiracy by the longtime private investigator and therefore should not be allowed at trial. The tapes form the backbone of allegations that Christensen paid Pellicano $100,000 to eavesdrop on the phone calls of the ex-wife of Christensen's client, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

The tape recordings of conversations five years ago between Christensen and Pellicano are pivotal to the government's contention that the two conspired to wiretap Lisa Bonder Kerkorian's phone calls during a nasty child custody battle. In those tapes, authorities allege, Pellicano repeatedly gave Christensen information about Bonder Kerkorian that could only have been obtained by illegally tapping her phone and through other illicit tactics.

Christensen's attorneys have long maintained that he turned to Pellicano to investigate death threats and extortion attempts against Kirk Kerkorian. Christensen's attorneys also have insisted that he didn't know Pellicano was illegally taping anyone and that the snippets of conversations used by the government in its prosecution have been taken out of context.

At Monday's hearing, attorney Terree Bowers urged the judge to throw out Pellicano's tape recordings of his client, arguing that they were inadmissible under federal law because they were made in the course of a crime and could have been used to extort Christensen.

But Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders rejected that claim, noting that Pellicano saved recordings of many "totally innocent" telephone conversations that had nothing to do with criminal acts, including conversations with his ex-wife, his son's doctor and a satellite television provider. Of the 112 conversations Pellicano taped during one period, he said, 34 were between Pellicano and Christensen.

Saunders also argued that Bowers was inconsistent in claiming that his client may have been the target of an extortion attempt by Pellicano after earlier insisting that Christensen's conversations with Pellicano did not involve illegal acts.

"They can't have it both ways," Saunders told the judge.

Denying the defense motion to immediately throw out the recordings as evidence, Fischer said she would make her final ruling after a hearing at which Christensen's attorneys can more fully present evidence proving that the tapes should be excluded from the trial. No time or date was set for that hearing.

Outside court, Bowers said he was pleased with the judge's ruling and that he and Christensen's legal team "intend to take full advantage" of the evidentiary hearing.

Fischer also denied a motion by Pellicano's attorneys to subpoena records from the county prosecutor's office that relate to pending local charges that Pellicano hired an ex-con to threaten a former Los Angeles Times reporter over a series of stories.

The investigation into that alleged crime led federal authorities to search Pellicano's Sunset Strip offices and later obtain a grand jury indictment that charges the former private eye with numerous counts of wiretapping and other crimes on behalf of his clients.

Pellicano's attorneys hope to prove that the district attorney's records will show that the search should never have been allowed because a government informant lied and authorities withheld or misrepresented evidence from the courts.

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