By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
WHAT IS SELF-EXILED POLLSTER AND FORMER WEST WINGCONSULTANT PATRICK Caddell doing at Winona Ryder's shoplifting trial? Two weeks ago America's most incensed political insider was upbraiding Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich's touchy-feely guru, Marianne Williamson, at Ed Asner's house. A few weeks before that, he was cajoling Richard Riordan to launch a write-in bid for governor -- Caddell hates Gray Davis that much. He regularly turns up at Arianna Huffington's Brentwood salons, and can be seen on CNN, excoriating hypocritical liberal Democrats, as only a wounded idealist can. Angry, never soft-spoken, always defiant, he is as politically supercharged as the small-voiced Ryder is quiescent. Yet here he is, during a break in the trial Friday, leaning in to Ryder, jawboning away as she smiles in apparent agreement. Who knows how much of this she's getting -- how much anyone would get -- since Caddell is famous for speaking in sentences formed in a linear accelerator.
"This is just as big as the Chicago 7 trial, really," Caddell spits out, on the same day former Sony chief Peter Guber and two other Hollywood-connected jurors are sworn in to sit in judgment of the 31-year-old actress. Without a pause, Caddell adds, "I never met her until yesterday," as if that completes the thought. Strange as it sounds, the non sequitur makes sense. Caddell has volunteered to monitor the case for Ryder's lawyer, Mark Geragos, not because of the personal connection -- he was a close friend of Timothy Leary, who, it is well-known, was Ryder's godfather -- but as a matter of principle.
"Back in January," he explains, "following the week that saw seven Marines sacrifice their lives in Afghanistan, one of the newsmagazines devoted its cover to Winona Ryder. Before we knew the charges, she was just being annihilated. I was so outraged because people had died the week before -- and the magazines went right back to character attacks. For two days they had to pretend that they were upset about September 11, and then it was back to business as usual. The rapacious appetite for dismembering and devouring celebrities, sports figures and political officials was and remains as insatiable as ever. The D.A. and the press were flaying her alive. It was open season on her, with insidious gossip about her boyfriends and twisted childhood anecdotes. I was on TV and said, 'Cool it' -- a call to civility, détente in the politics of personal destruction. Vaclav Havel talks about making people into consumers. The last thing big media and the government want is for the American people to become involved."
When L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley filed felony theft charges, Caddell phoned Geragos to offer his help. "This is not a legal process, it is pure politics," Caddell told the attorney. "The D.A.'s political ambitions required making a legal mountain out of a molehill. She is the political sacrificial lamb. You have a celebrity, so you campaign on a celebrity. It was easy: She looks defenseless. They don't give a shit about her." Nor, by implication, her crime. If it were strictly a matter of shoplifting, Caddell says, lesser charges would have been filed. He cites an article in The National Review, home turf for his political opponents, written by Joel Mowbray. "According to an NBC News study of L.A. County records," Mowbray reported on September 30, "none of the other 5,000 people prosecuted for shoplifting in the last two years has been hit with such harsh charges -- and in two specific cases in Beverly Hills where the alleged amount stolen exceeded that in Ryder's case, both defendants pleaded out with misdemeanors -- something that prosecutors have adamantly refused to do for the movie star."
Nobody crusades quite like Pat Caddell. He lost 49 states for Walter Mondale, just as many for George McGovern, and all 50 for the New Coke. Now he's obsessed with the Cooley record. Only the institutional clout of O'Melveny & Meyers, he sputters, keeps the firm from being sued for the Belmont High fiasco. Deference to cops has clamped a lid on Rampart, and bought dirty cops the D.A.'s protection. "But the guy who exposes Rodney King II, in Inglewood, he's flown up to Northern California for a 5-year-old warrant. And the D.A. sends in eight people with guns drawn to search for a real estate contract that they could have subpoenaed in their investigation of the city's film board."
Still, you've got to wonder why Caddell is inflamed over the manipulation of a movie star who has the resources to defend herself. "If they will go after somebody like her, then nobody's safe," he blasts. "Little people aren't prosecuted for political reasons. They're there to rack up convictions." Cooley, in effect, is fulfilling his campaign slogan -- which he used against his rival, former D.A. Gil Garcetti. "Money talks, celebrities walk." Not this time. "Going after Ryder brings it into focus," Caddell says. "Corruption is a market principle. If you're poor, too bad. But I don't think there's a crooked bone in Cooley's body. This is Cooley, and Finley Peter Dunne [the 19th-century satirist] says it all: 'A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts in the case.' If they'll do this to her, what do you think they'll do to you? That's what's really scary."