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
“I WOULD LIKE TO TALK to Mr. Pellicano for half an hour — I would never tell anyone,” says Elaine Jordison as she drives up PCH, miles away from the Anthony Pellicano trial, which ended just hours before. “Why didn’t he testify or have a lawyer? I feel bad for his family. He has children. I cried.”
Jordison’s speaking by cell phone, letting the world receding in her rearview mirror know what it was like to spend 11 weeks as Juror No. 7 in the trial of Pellicano and four co-defendants who were convicted Thursday of identity theft, wire fraud and racketeering. (Click here for verdict-day blog.)
She lives in Templeton, a small town 215 miles from Los Angeles, in San Luis Obispo County, where she works for the mental health department. She was, indeed, seen weeping as Pellicano’s 76 guilty verdicts were read by Judge Dale Fischer, but she is now going home to her husband, kids and “many animals.” No more Monday drives to L.A., where she was put up in a motel for four days each week by the government, driving home each Friday afternoon.
She doesn’t sound as though she’ll miss L.A. and hearing about the lives of its neurotic celebrities and millionaires.
“We had Christian values — we wake up wanting to be healthy and happy and to go to work,” she says of her fellow jurors, before describing the wealthy witnesses and victims of Pellicano’s wiretaps: “They were spiritually robbed and empty people. They write checks for $100,000 the way we would for $100.”
The peek Jordison offers into the jury room might give both sides in the trial pause to assess their strategies. According to Jordison, the government’s case didn’t seem very coherent.
“The prosecution brought in all this information,” she says. “We didn’t know how it all fit in together until we went into the room and started putting it together.”
She clearly felt straitjacketed by Judge Fischer’s instructions, which laid out the ground rules for how jurors were to perceive and weigh the testimony. Those instructions prevented the panel from reconciling federal law with what seemed to be mitigating circumstances. Jordison, for example, found it compelling that the taps on the home phones of billionaire Alec Gores were authorized by Gores himself (to check up on his adulterous wife, Lisa) but knew she was told to consider the taps strictly illegal.
“When you read the instructions, they were pretty much pro-guilt, pro-prosecution,” she says. “If I believed the [defense] testimony, it didn’t matter. It always got back to Instruction No. 30 — aiding and abetting.”
Perhaps just as interesting as the jury’s deliberations were tidbits on its daily routines: The jurors remained cordial to one another throughout deliberations; many “really liked” defense attorney Chad Hummel; Jordison believed Fischer was a good judge, and she had never heard of Keith Carradine before the trial, although she knew of brother David from Kung Fu.
Most of all, Jordison explained the mystery of why the jurors had told the judge they had reached a verdict but wanted to wait an hour to have lunch before entering the court:
“We hadn’t eaten breakfast and were hungry!”
The great paradox of Jordison’s experience was the amiable figure Pellicano cut for the jurors, while, to Jordison, at least, the people whose privacy Pellicano invaded evoked little sympathy.
“Nothing really bad happened to the victims,” Jordison flatly says. Nor did she think much of the prosecution’s star witnesses, many of whom had cut deals with the prosecution or were hoping for reduced sentences for their own crimes.
“[Pellicano’s] ex-employees seemed on medication or on drugs,” Jordison says. “They were spacey cartoon characters.”
Jordison saved most of her displeasure for Pellicano’s buxom executive assistant, who rolled over on her master and then turned his cross-examination of her into a tearful group-therapy session.
“I did not believe Tarita Virtue,” Jordison says of Virtue’s melodramatic testimony. “That was showmanship, it was totally unbelievable. I think she has problems and her father lied for her.”
What’s striking are the positive feelings Jordison developed for Pellicano, who, many in the media thought, merely performed a kind of lawyer karaoke whenever he stood at the lectern and acted as his own attorney. Not to mention the geyser of four-letter words he was heard spewing at clients and employees on recorded phone conversations played in court.
“The profanity didn’t bother me,” Jordison says. “That was who he was. He had a great business; he did a lot of legitimate things. I don’t know what made him stray — he’s a likable person.”
For Jordison, Pellicano was a worthy man who’d done unworthy things — even his illegal activities were done in the service of his clients.
“He wanted to take [all the blame] onto himself, but he’s very protective and secretive — that’s his Italian heritage.”
This view contrasts sharply with Jordison’s lack of empathy for Anita Busch. It was the ham-fisted intimidation of Busch that first tipped the police and FBI off to Pellicano’s folkloric history of breaking the law in the service of powerful Hollywood clients. In June 2002, Busch found a dead fish on her Audi, whose windshield had been cracked. A rose was stuck into the fish’s mouth, and a note with the single word “Stop” completed this threatening tableau mort.
At first, suspicion for this crime fell on possible underworld figures, since Busch was writing an L.A. Times story about actor Steven Seagal’s ties to allegedly mob-connected film producer Julius Nasso. Only later did Busch believe that Pellicano had a hand in the fish-and-rose incident, after it came to light that his client, Michael Ovitz, had hired him to snoop into the lives of Busch and Bernard Weinraub, both of whom had written New York Times articles embarrassing to Ovitz.
Many courtroom spectators had found Pellicano’s cross-examination of Busch, who repeatedly broke down in tears, brutal and egregious — almost like the humiliation of a rape victim. Jordison didn’t see it that way.
“I didn’t think he was bullying her,” Jordison says, adding she wasn’t moved by Busch’s tears. Yet Jordison had deeper questions about Busch’s behavior following the 2002 vandalism of her car.
“I didn’t understand why Busch was going after the mob but acting like a frail person,” Jordison says. “You’d think that as a reporter she’d have a little more backbone. But she was acting as though she was afraid to answer her front door.”
If anything, Jordison was far more sympathetic to the powerful subject of Busch and Weinraub’s writing.
“I kinda felt sorry for Michael Ovitz,” Jordison says of the Hollywood mogul and co-founder of Creative Artists Agency. Journalists “Busch and Weinraub were trying to bring down his company.”
Jordison’s stated belief that Busch and Weinraub were doing the very same thing that Michael Ovitz was doing — trying to get information — was revealing in this court narrative about those who view possession of other people’s personal data as the key to success. Still, Jordison believes, Ovitz would have been better off ignoring what the two journalists were up to.
“He should’ve left it alone,” she says.
After nearly 45 minutes of talk, Jordison is approaching Ojai and has nearly 100 miles to go before reaching home. It’s time to put aside the trial for now — or at least until July, when she and her fellow jurors and alternates will gather for a barbecue reunion.
Click here for Steven Mikulan's same-day blog on the Pellicano verdict.