In the Jury’s Lap: Pellicano Trial Finishes

The fate of the Pellicano Gang of Five rests with the jury, now that closing arguments have concluded. Attorney Mona Soo Hoo began the morning by announcing that “This case is about dualities.” She then enumerated a list of dialectical opposites that described perceptions of her client, former phone company field technician Ray Turner. He stands accused of applying wire taps and channeling billing data to private eye Anthony Pellicano – who allegedly charged clients a flat $25,000 fee for this information and other services. It was an intriguing inventory (“Phone guy versus phone-tap guy, presumption of innocence versus assumption of guilt”) that promised court watchers a new side of Soo Hoo, whose habit of signing on to other defense attorneys’ initiatives had earlier earned her the nickname Mona Me Too.

Alas, this moment of rhetorical flash quickly ended and the all-too familiar Soo Hoo reasserted herself at the lectern with her stop-and-go, elliptical oratorical style, as she offered speculations about Turner’s innocence that relied too heavily on phone-tech jargon. Soo Hoo finished after an hour, leaving jurors with the suggestion that former Pellicano employee Wayne Reynolds may have been the true wiretapper and not Turner. Next up was Lawrence Semenza, the Nevada lawyer representing Abner Nicherie, who is accused of one lone count of aiding and abetting in wiretapping. Semenza accumulated a bit of a mystique during the trial, mostly because he rarely spoke but also because of his Las Vegas-bright neckties, which were best approached not so much with sunglasses as earplugs.

A slight, downtrodden man of late middle age, Semenza reminds one of Jack Lemmon’s character, Shelley Levene, in the film of Glengarry Glen Ross. Semenza proved an effective speaker, his acerbic voice outlining how his client might have been innocent of the Gordian Knot of business intrigue allegedly involving Nicherie and his brother, Daniel, and fellow Israeli nationals Ami and Sarit Shafrir. Like Mona Soo Hoo, Semenza ended his summation by producing the specter of an alternative villain – Ami Shafrir – as the real culprit for whom Abner Nicherie was being blamed.

Prosecutor Daniel Saunders got the last word in during the government rebuttal argument. Saunders, who’d been lumbered during his Tuesday closing argument by the need to enumerate most of the 78 counts involved in the RICO case, got to unload on the five defendants and their attorneys. He upbraided the defense for diverting attention away from the accused to the case’s many unindicted or plea-bargained witnesses, noting that to try to fix the crimes’ responsibility on such lesser actors was “like going after the johns and not the prostitutes, the junkies and not the dealers.”

After 90 minutes, Saunders concluded by declaring, “This case is not about Hollywood. It’s not about Sylvester Stallone or Keith Carradine. It’s not even about Brad Grey or Michael Ovitz . . . This is a case about people who believed the justice system could be bought with a $25,000 nonrefundable retainer.”

But what, listeners wondered, could be more Hollywood than that?


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