"My hope is that the message goes out that doctors do not have a license to pump innocent and often vulnerable people full of dangerous chemicals."
Photo: Steven Mikulan
This was Jerry Brown at Friday morning's news conference that had been called to answer questions about the indictment of three people charged with supplying illegal prescription drugs to Anna Nicole Smith, who died from an overdose of them in 2007. The 70-year-old Attorney General was looking fit and sounded aggressive, as he usually does at the podium, inside L.A.'s Ronald Reagan State Office Building.
But he also rambled in a way that might not have been too obvious because he spoke quickly and without much punctuation, as though in run-on, stream-of-consciousness sentences.
"Certainly there's a certain psychic gain here, part of the glitz and celebrity and power. There's a lot of money floating around. There's a lot of the high life."
Brown said these words in reply to a reporter's question about the
motivation of Smith's "friends" -- the lawyer Howard K. Stern and
doctors Sandeep Kapoor and Khristine Eroshevich -- who stand accused of
keeping the actress on a rigorous diet of pills and opiates that parked
her in a mental haze until she died. But Brown might well have been
describing another kind of addiction -- a need for some elected
officials to stay connected to the political power grid. He'd said
about as much to a group of editors and writers at the L.A. Weekly
during a 2006 interview, when he was campaigning for A.G. Running for
office he told us then, with beguiling candor, was what guys like him
It's all but certain Brown will run for California governor in 2010,
an office he's already held for two terms. Was Brown's prosecution of
the gang of three allegedly responsible, however peripherally, for
Smith's death, part of a pre-campaign strategy? In 2006 this newspaper
had endorsed him with this bouquet of praise, believing he wouldn't run
for governor again:
"Unlike other candidates seeking the job, Brown wouldn't be tempted
to weigh his every move as attorney general on whether it could provide
a springboard into the Governor's Office. Let's remember, he already
was the governor."
Today, downtown, none of us asked Brown about a possible connection
to the prosecution and his political ambitions. The most we enquired,
politely, was whether his "office" would be involved in some similar
case if it involved an unknown addict. Perhaps reporters were thinking
of the huge open-air drug bazaar that was thriving only a few blocks
away on Skid Row. Or maybe some of us had heard, driving over here,
Jeffrey Toobin say on the radio that despite the District Attorney's
11-count indictment, the three defendants would probably at most get a
year in prison, with the doctors losing their medical licenses.
"This office has gone after dozens of doctors for abusing the law in
ways that we're talking about today in respect to Anna Nicole Smith,"
Brown said. "She was a very famous person but the abuse in this case is
serious. Unfortunately it's not that unusual. It goes on. And it goes
on in a way that I personally feel very strongly committed to putting a
stop to." By now Brown was racing through his lines in that hoarse,
Robert Duvall delivery he has. The words spilled down from the podium
and Brown would leave it up to us to later add shape to them with
commas and periods.
"Is it self-indulgence, is it some power trip is it just getting
some contact high off a celebrity? That remains to be seen," Brown
continued. "The law's been violated, there's a conspiracy, someone's
died here. And this is bad business. And I'm very concerned that this
indulgence by society, not just in this case but generally speaking
people think drug dealers on the street corner are the only threat --
as a matter of fact, people in white smocks and pharmacies and with
their medical degrees are a growing threat and we mean to curtail it in
the best way that we can."
People in white smocks. With their medical degrees. Was I the only
one in the room who thought the Attorney General himself was on
something? It sounded less like an anti-crime crusade than Stalin's
invention of the Doctor's Plot.
"This is serious stuff," Brown said. "There is a general tolerance
and indulgence of drugs. Everyone knows a doctor, many people take
sleeping pills and then they take another pill, we have drug
advertising. The American people are being propagandized to be more
tolerant of drugs. . . . I personally think this is damn serious and I
hope these courts take it more seriously perhaps than they have in the
past and this is only one in a series of efforts to crack down on
doctors. We've already gone after a hundred other doctors and we'll be
stepping up the prosecution in the months ahead."
Brown's press conference was over in 17 minutes. Not one of the
representatives from the D.A.'s office or Drug Enforcement
Administration present took over the podium - how could you follow an
act like that? Instead, reporters cornered the reps individually as
more than a dozen camera crews struck their equipment.
I thought of an afternoon years ago, when I had briefly interviewed
Anna Nicole Smith. It was at the Abbey club in West Hollywood, which
had proclaimed that date Anna Nicole Smith Day. Smith was there during
an audition to choose a drag queen dressed as herself, who would appear
in a straight-to-video film. She was in one of her fat-and-high phases,
and because of a roller-skating accident had to be hoisted out of her
limo and into a wheelchair.
I was told I couldn't use a tape recorder, and when Smith answered
my questions she stared off and spoke in a far-away voice that sounded
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
like it came from someone not merely stoned but also out on a ledge. It
was as though merely saying the wrong word could send tumbling off it
and into a deep void. That happened two years ago, but the circus that
surrounded her is still in business.