A high-profile attorney to Hollywood's rich and famous was so determined to crush his opponents in a bitter child-support battle he was fighting on behalf of his billionaire client that he resorted to an illegal wiretap conducted by private eye Anthony Pellicano, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.
Terry Christensen, 67, the only attorney charged in a case that kept Hollywood on edge for years, is accused of paying Pellicano $100,000 to listen in on the private conversations of Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, ex-wife of investor Kirk Kerkorian.
"Defendant Christensen was able to obtain the types of information from his adversaries that, to quote defendant Pellicano, he otherwise would never be able to get," Assistant U.S. Atty. Kevin Lally said, referring to a wiretap that Lally alleged was illegal.
Lally's statements came Thursday as he outlined his case against Christensen and Pellicano, who each face two felony counts in connection with the wiretap.
Christensen's attorneys quickly denied their client had any knowledge that Pellicano was conducting wiretaps and said the private investigator was hired because the ex-wife was threatening to harm Kerkorian and her own child.
Pellicano, who is representing himself, was convicted in May of 76 felony counts, including racketeering and wiretapping. He chose not to make an opening statement, reserving his right to do so later in the trial.
Lally said Pellicano was paid to be the "unseen, unheard, and completely uninvited eavesdropper" so that Christensen could always stay a step ahead of his opponents in the legal battle.
In trial, jurors are expected to listen to all 6 1/2 hours of the 34 conversations Pellicano allegedly recorded between the two men. Prosecutors say the tapes show that Christensen was aware of the wiretap and directed Pellicano to listen for specific information, including litigation strategy.
Prosecutors do not have any of the actual wiretapped calls, which defense attorneys say is a telling lack of evidence.
Attorneys for Christensen said the former Marine Corps prosecutor was being used by Pellicano, who was also working on behalf of another client -- millionaire film producer and philanthropist Steve Bing, who was later determined to be the child's biological father.
"Mr. Christensen was a victim of illegal recording, not a perpetrator," said Patricia Glaser, Christensen's attorney and longtime partner in his firm.
In outlining their cases Thursday, attorneys for both sides hinted at the behind-the-scenes nastiness of the 2002 legal battle between the Kerkorians, which provided much tabloid fodder at the time.