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