As part of Mel Gibson's plea, sources say, the actor would avoid jail… (Francois Mori / Associated…)
Actor Mel Gibson has reached an agreement with prosecutors not to fight a domestic violence charge, according to several people close to the case, capping a yearlong tabloid drama that has badly damaged attempts to resuscitate his movie career.
Gibson, once one of Hollywood's top stars, has seen his public image battered by a series of scandals that started with his 2006 drunk driving arrest in which he spewed anti-Semitic insults and continued last year with the release of profanity-laden phone recordings.
FOR THE RECORD Mel Gibson:
In the March 10 LATExtra section, an article about Mel Gibson's agreement with prosecutors over allegations that he had assaulted his former girlfriend quoted publicist Howard Bragman as saying the actor's decision not to fight a domestic violence charge would probably hurt his career. The article should have noted that Bragman at one point had agreed to represent the girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, as her publicist, although the two did not go forward with the arrangement.
Several sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because a criminal case has yet to be filed, said Gibson is expected to plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge Friday at L.A. County's airport branch courthouse. Gibson is expected to attend the hearing. A no contest plea has the same effect in criminal court as a guilty plea.
As part of an agreement with the district attorney's office, the sources said, Gibson would avoid jail but be placed on probation and ordered to enroll in a yearlong batterer's program.
The actor-director's latest legal trouble began last year when his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his daughter, accused him of threatening her with a gun and punching her at his Malibu home. Secret recordings of Gibson engaging in a series of racist, profane rants were leaked to the celebrity website Radar Online. In the recordings, Gibson appeared to confirm Grigorieva's allegation of violence, telling her: "You … deserved it."
Some film industry experts said a domestic violence conviction would seriously hurt Gibson's chances of regaining his star status.
"It means he's even further away from redemption in Hollywood," said veteran publicist Howard Bragman, "and he was far away to begin with."
The plea is expected to come days before Gibson's new movie, "The Beaver," is scheduled to premiere next week at the South by Southwest film festival in Texas. Bragman said the dark comedy, directed by and co-starring Gibson's longtime friend Jodie Foster, was already considered a risky venture.
"Now it's kryptonite — no, radioactive," he said.
Susan Ciccone, a publicist for the film, said Gibson's anticipated plea deal would not delay the premiere. The actor is not expected to attend.
Producer and studio executive Mike Medavoy said the future of Gibson's career would hinge on how he conducts himself following a plea.
"Would I take him off my list of people I would hire as an actor, no I wouldn't," said Medavoy, who worked with Gibson on the 1984 film "The Bounty." "If he's learned something from this experience and if he changes, then I would have no problem. But that's a bunch of ifs."
The Sheriff's Department investigated the domestic violence allegations as well as claims by Gibson's attorneys that Grigorieva tried to use the secret recordings of his rants to extort money from him. She also had photos of broken teeth from a January 2010 incident in which she said Gibson punched her twice and brandished a gun.
The photographs and recordings became the subject of multimillion-dollar settlement negotiations involving attorneys for the former lovers.
A district attorney's spokeswoman declined to comment on the domestic violence or extortion claims.
Gibson's attorney, Blair Berk, released a statement saying her client wanted a quick resolution to the case for the sake of his children. She said that fighting a charge at trial can result in a heavy "personal price" for a defendant.
"That is particularly so for Mel, whose right to due process can only be exercised in this case with an enormous media circus attached," Berk said in the statement.
"Mel's priority throughout all of this has been that the best interests of his young daughter, Lucia, and the rest of his children be put first in any decisions made. It is with only that in mind that he asked me to approach the district attorney with a proposal that would bring all of this to an immediate end."
Harland Braun, a veteran criminal defense attorney, said prosecutors also have an incentive to settle the matter. Gibson's attorneys could use the negotiations involving the photos and phone recordings to attack Grigorieva's credibility if the actor were to go to trial on domestic violence charges.
"With her credibility, it's probably a weak case," Braun said. "But he doesn't want to go to trial either because it'll look bad. So it's a mutually agreeable deal."
Times staff writers Rebecca Keegan and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.