Shawn Holley, right, with Lindsay Lohan in this file photo, got her legal… (David McNew / Getty Images )
When Lindsay Lohan showed up for court on Thursday, the crowd was not as large as it has been for the actress — anticipating perhaps a resolution, rather than the sort of dramatic turn that's made her five-year legal saga as compelling as any TV reality show.
The 25-year-old Lohan has been in and out of jail and rehab so many times, her story line seemed to arc toward failure.
She blew off therapy and community service, ticked off counselors and judges. You never knew what to expect from her in the courtroom — a tearful plea, a pout, a fingernail painted with a vulgar taunt.
But one thing never seemed to change: the steady presence of lawyer Shawn Holley, who is as movie-star pretty as her client but has the gravitas to smooth Lohan's rough edges.
I've been pulling for Lohan from the beginning. She's a talented actress whose on-screen portrayals are an angsty mix of innocence and defiance. Her movies "Mean Girls" and "Freaky Friday" are classic favorites of my daughters.
But talk about bad role-modeling. As a fan, I found Lohan's missteps disappointing. As a mother, I found her jaunts exhausting. She became a symbol of the reckless self-absorption that's become routine for some young women — and I don't just mean Hollywood starlets.
As I watched her legal troubles mount — two DUIs and a jewelry theft — I took an odd sort of comfort from Holley's presence. They seemed to me more than client and lawyer.
When Lohan was sentenced to jail in 2010, she sobbed in the courtroom on Holley's shoulder. When Lohan was handcuffed in 2011, Holley looked down as her client was led out of court, as if the lawyer could not bear to watch.
On Thursday, Holley scribbled notes on her legal pad as the judge complimented Lohan's progress. She allowed herself the slightest smile when the judge pronounced Lohan's probation "terminated."
We witnessed the hug between Lohan and Holley. We didn't get to hear Lohan's whispered "I love you."
A few hours after Lohan was freed, I headed off to meet her lawyer. In my 30-minute drive, I heard the story of Lohan's court hearing three times on the radio. She was wearing a "tight-fitting blue pantsuit," one announcer intoned.
She wasn't. It was more like teal, and it was tailored and tasteful — conservative, if you're 25.
It seems we can't resist a dig, even on her most triumphant morning. That reflects our investment in her bad-girl persona. And that troubles Holley.
"Lindsay's incredibly strong, but she's also very fragile," Holley said. "I can't imagine what it must be like to be her and feel how much people are kind of waiting for your downfall. That's got to be difficult, hurtful. And she doesn't deserve it."
That's the celebrity lawyer speaking — but it's also the mother of a 9-year-old daughter, an attorney who got her start as a public defender, a woman who still remembers her own youthful misadventures.
"Let's just say I had fun," said Holley, who went to UCLA from Fairfax High, spent a year teaching English at Washington Prep, then enrolled at Southwestern Law School because she didn't know what to do with her life.
She'd spent lots of time around lawyers. Her mother — who was single and 19 when Holley was born — was a legal secretary who earned her MBA in night school and spent years managing law firms.
Holley got her legal start interviewing car thieves and crack addicts. "You walk into this [courtroom] holding tank, and it's hot and it stinks and it's nasty," she said. And no one understands their legal rights. Most were ready to plead guilty, she said, even if they had a legitimate defense.
"You start seeing that you're dealing with the concept of liberty in real life."
She loved being a deputy public defender. "I couldn't believe they were paying me to do a job that I found so rewarding," she said.
The paycheck is a lot bigger now, and the clients aren't stealing food to feed their children.
Holley began collecting celebrity clients when she went to work for Johnnie Cochran and, after he died, for the entertainment firm headed by Howard Weitzman. "His clients started getting DUIs," Holley said, and she became the mama bear for wild young things: Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Lohan.
Why don't these rich young celebrities hire drivers, I wondered.
"Because they have hot cars and they want to drive them and be seen in them — just like other young people have done throughout time," Holley said.
"I don't think these young women do things that other young women don't do," she said. "But nobody else has a microscope on them. In this culture of TMZ and the 24-7 news cycle ... you can't get your nails done [in Beverly Hills] or go shopping at the Grove without the paparazzi following you."
She knows, because she's been swarmed by photographers at the Grove. "My daughter loved it, just loved it," Holley said.