Team Pellicano is now taking its turn at bat, but the past few days of the defense’s case have seemed like prosecution by other means. Last Friday co-defendant Mark Arneson took the witness stand on his own behalf and the affable, three-hour colloquy between Arneson and his attorney, Chad Hummel, showcased the former LAPD sergeant as a confident professional who was never at a loss for answers. The 54-year-old’s oddly young-sounding voice lent his testimony the ring of youthful clarity.
All that changed when Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Saunders took over and focused on Arneson’s eagerness to provide a civilian (private investigator Anthony Pellicano) with privileged cop and DMV data about his clients’ enemies – some of whom were “enemies” simply because they were plaintiffs in lawsuits. Suddenly Arneson’s easy chair demeanor vanished – and much of his memory with it. That youthful voice of his now only made Arneson sound like Eddie Haskell trying to weasel out of admitting responsibility for playing a prank.
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Saunders mocked Arneson’s dogged insistence that he was paid $2,500 per month by Pellicano for broadly defined “security consulting” duties and not for his digging up private citizens’ Social Security numbers, arrest records and home addresses. After a four-day break, trial resumed Wednesday with Saunders’ relentless interrogation. If, however, the prosecutor’s Friday cross-examination was withering, at times Wednesday it was merely sputtering. Saunders’ sardonic tone was still evident, but the more he sought to show that Arneson had lied about filing for bankruptcy in 1998 to stave off foreclosure of his Rancho Palos Verdes home, the more he shifted the jury’s attention away from the trial’s central focus – the alleged criminal conspiracy by Pellicano and his co-defendants to illegally wiretap subjects and to sell their identities.
As the day dragged on at least one juror was seen with her eyes closed, her head occasionally rolling. Yet Saunders almost committed a blunder far worse than losing juror attention. For, as court was adjourning for its 15-minute noon break, the prosecutor stepped over to the defense lawyers and, according to Hummel and co-counsel Adam Braun, advised Hummel, “I’m going to ask that your client be remanded for perjury.” It was a dangerous moment of hubris because the jury was still filing out of the courtroom and was well within earshot of Saunders’ comment.
After the break Judge Dale Fischer determined that only one alternate juror had overheard Saunders utter the word “perjury” and denied Hummel’s heated demand for a mistrial. Arneson’s ordeal on the stand finally ended at 1:35 p.m., but not before Saunders, who’d finally moved off the topic of Arneson’s alleged bankruptcy petition (even the prosecutor referred to its continued discussion as “beat[ing] a dead horse”) had established the damaging fact that Arneson, a representative of law enforcement, had disclosed the existence of an LAPD undercover operation aimed at an organized-crime bookmaking crew on the Westside to Pellicano, who then contacted members of that crew, offering to sell them Arneson’s information.
With no trial scheduled for Thursday, Friday may well see Hummel bring Hollywood superlawyer Bert Fields to the witness stand. That could turn into a grilling both sides will enjoy.