Editor's note: Rachel Abramowitz will be periodically checking in on the trial of Anthony Pellicano -- former private eye to the stars, who faces 110 counts of racketeering, wiretapping, conspiracy and other federal charges -- and writing about what the case means to Hollywood.
For once, Chris Rock wasn't laughing.
Dressed in a black suit, the comedian was subdued and spoke in such a hushed voice that the judge had to urge him to "project" during his brief 8 a.m. appearance on the witness stand in the Pellicano trial Friday.
Was it shame that he was feeling? Because he had hired Pellicano? Or shame that he'd been drawn into the media maelstrom, his fling with "Perfect 10" model Monica Zsibrita, now public knowledge for anyone who reads the Internet.
It's hard to tell, but Rock appears to be one of the few who employed the disgraced gumshoe to show any signs of discomfort about having consorted with the notorious alleged thug. Indeed, a month into U.S. vs. Pellicano, some of Los Angeles' swankiest citizens have climbed in the witness chair to testify about hiring Pellicano to investigate philandering wives, adulterous son-in-laws, angry former clients. Many have talked about Pellicano rather fondly, particularly the superwealthy who got to listen to his wiretaps but don't face any prosecution.
For instance, billionaire Alec Gores (brother of Paradigm honcho Sam) matter-of-factly said, "He was very good to me throughout this tough period," which is why he lent Pellicano $50,000 when asked on top of the $230,000 he shelled out to get proof (wiretaps, as it turns out) that his wife was having an affair with his other brother, Tom.
Rock, by contrast, tried to keep his answers to a minimum, primarily saying "Yes" or "No" to a series of government questions that established that he had hired Pellicano in late 1998 upon the advice of his attorney Stephen Barnes, after Zsibrita claimed he'd impregnated her after a one-night stand. (The apparent date itinerary: The Ivy, dinner party with Madonna, sex at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with Rock's semen neatly swept into a tissue.)
After a DNA test exonerated Rock, Zsibrita filed a police report alleging that the sex had not been consensual. No charges were ever filed against the comedian.
Rock got only slightly testy when defense attorney Chad Hummel, who represents former Los Angeles Police Sgt. Mark Arneson, tried to elicit more details about what "you believed was a shakedown."
"I didn't believe it," clarified Rock. "The claim was false. DNA proved it false. Someone who was not pregnant with my child requested large sums of money."
In this instance, the government alleges that Pellicano and Arneson illegally accessed Zsibrita's personal information from police computers.
As is becoming his routine, Pellicano, defending himself, declined to cross-examine.
After Rock had left the courtroom, the government played a snippet of a call Pellicano taped between himself and Rock, in which the private eye reads to him from the police report Zsibrita filed. The tape shows how Pellicano often tried to insinuate himself between the lawyers and their clients, telling the comedian he was going to download the info to Rock directly rather than simply send it to Rock's lawyer. "I don't want to embarrass you," said Pellicano, all concern for his celebrity client.
This brief taped interlude is certainly a lot less juicy than the extended version of the conversation that blogger Allison Hope Weiner has posted on the Huffington Post. During the rest of the call, Rock was his more emotive self, complaining that "Once you're accused of rape, you're just [expletive], you know?
"That's why I want to blacken this girl up, totally " said Pellicano. "I want to make her out to be a lying, scumbag, manipulative [expletive]."
At least then Rock still had his sense of humor: "I'm better getting caught with needles in my arm. Way better . . . There's Chris Rock shooting heroin. Much better blow to the career."
Bert Fields' spectral presence once again hovered over the trial last week, this time as the consigliere of scorned hedge fund manager Adam Sender.
Hollywood has been awash in hedge fund money -- over the last three years, hedge funds have shelled out $13 billion to finance some 150 pictures. Yet Sender's outing with Pellicano shows what can happen when a Wall Street master of the universe gets ticked off.
As it happens, the sum in question was small, only $1.1 million. That's the amount Sender put into a movie company with Aaron Russo, who'd once managed Bette Midler before becoming a movie producer. No movies were ever made, and Sender sued to get his money back from Russo. After his first lawyer couldn't find Russo to serve him the papers, Sender turned to Bert Fields, who recommended hiring Pellicano.
Small in stature with long locks, Sender testified that Fields told him that Pellicano "was very good at what he did. He used unorthodox methods but that he got the job done."