Lights, cam­eras, celebrity court ac­tion clog­ging up Los An­ge­les’ le­gal sys­tem

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Michael Cieply

LOS AN­GE­LES — What price jus­tice for celebri­ties? The ques­tion was front and cen­ter in Los An­ge­les this week as an army of govern­ment em­ploy­ees shooed Lind­say Lo­han through a Bev­erly Hills court­room to face jail for her lat­est pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tion.

Mean­while, a down­town jury gave Don John­son $23.2 mil­lion for ar­rears on “Nash Bridges,” a judge let stand charges against Anna Ni­cole Smith’s doc­tor, Jesse James fought a breach of con­tract claim and Leif Gar­rett faced a heroin rap. Also, Lo­han, in an­other Bev­erly Hills court, dealt with a suit over the emo­tional dis­tress of some­one she is ac­cused of chas­ing with her SUV.

If things weren’t busy enough, by midweek the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment had ac­knowl­edged open­ing a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing Mel Gib­son and ex-girl­friend Ok­sana Grig­orieva.

Stretched to the limit by bud­get cuts and a ris­ing caseload — traf­fic fil­ings alone rose nearly 10 per­cent to 1.83 mil­lion last year — the Los An­ge­les County jus­tice sys­tem has been strug­gling to con­tend with what ap­pears to be a grow­ing num­ber of celebri­ties gone bad, done wrong, or oth­er­wise in need of ad­ju­di­ca­tion.

“The sim­ple an­swer is, yes,” said Al­lan Para­chini, a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court, when asked whether the rich and fa­mous were plac­ing un­usual strain on his in­sti­tu­tion of late.

Para­chini and oth­ers said it is im­pos­si­ble to tell whether the num­ber of celebrity cases re­ally has gone up, or the def­i­ni­tion of celebrity has sim­ply been notched down. “A celebrity’s sec­ond cousin twice re­moved who gets a DUI now be­comes a fa­mous per­son,” said Sandi Gib­bons, a spokes­woman for the Los An­ge­les County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

What is not in doubt is that courts are in­vest­ing far more time, en­ergy and cash in tend­ing the fa­mous than they did only a few years ago, be­fore cable TV and web­sites such as TMZ.com turned lo­cal courts into one big re­al­ity show.

Para­chini and mem­bers of his six-per­son of­fice rou­tinely de­ploy at celebrity hear­ings, mostly to keep a me­dia gag­gle that of­ten in­cludes 75 cam­eras and 300 re­porters from over­whelm­ing or­di­nary folks who have the bad luck to show up on the same day as a celebrity.

Mark Ger­a­gos, a lawyer whose clients have in­cluded Michael Jack­son, said pros­e­cu­tors and judges have need­lessly clut­tered the courts by giv­ing celebri­ties elab­o­rate pro­ceed­ings, rather than re­sort­ing to the usual set­tle­ments and so­lu­tions. “Peo­ple get frozen and don’t do what they nor­mally do,” he said.

Oth­ers lay the blame not with celebri­ties or those who judge them, but with those who watch.

“The re­sources are be­ing wasted by the me­dia, not by the pros­e­cu­tors,” Gib­bons said.

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