Pellicano's Rat Pack
AS T.S. ELIOT SAID, APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH, and it’s already torturous for Hollywood now that the first A-lister has been charged in the Pellicano case and the scandal has broken up one major entertainment-law firm and threatens to dissolve another. Meanwhile, more indictments are expected any day from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
I was tipped that Hollywood attorneys Howard Weitzman and Dale Kinsella and eight of their colleagues were already packing up their offices when a recent Los Angeles Times story said they “might” leave. So word went out to the media Monday that the rats are now officially deserting the sinking ship, a.k.a. the esteemed Century City law firm of Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman, Machtinger & Kinsella, where star litigator Bert Fields has toiled for eons, and which less illustrious litigator Weitzman only recently joined. The new firm will be called Kinsella, Weitzman, Iser, Kum & Aldisert.
What I find especially disgusting about Weitzman’s flight from Greenberg Glusker is, as a source close to the Pellicano investigation reminds, that Howard was the guy who first brought sleazebag Anthony Pellicano to Los Angeles and eventually inflicted him on all of Hollywood. Lest we forget, Weitzman worked hand-in-glove with Pellicano on the John DeLorean cocaine case in the early 1980s, and for years after. Then, I’m told, the attorney and the P.I. had a falling out in the late 1990s. Oh, yeah, Weitzman must have been shocked, shocked, at Pellicano’s connection to Fields.
If you want to decide just how big a rat Weitzman is (hint: a huge one, with giant whiskers and a fat tail), read my May 20, 2005, column “Hollywood Lawyers in Love,” about the tempestuous professional relationship between Howard and Bert dating back to their Michael Jackson days. By the way, not that I’m counting, but isn’t this the umpteenth move made by Weitzman? (His skittering has included Wyman Bautzer, then Katten, Muchin, Zavis & Weitzman, then Universal Studios, then Proskauer Rose, then Greenberg Glusker, then this new firm. Phew!)
What has Hollywood lawyers running scared is the possibility of civil-litigation fallout that could cripple firms caught up in the Pellicano scandal because professional liability insurance won’t cover illegal activity like wiretapping. Already, plaintiff lawyers have been retained by clients who were allegedly wiretapped by top L.A. lawyers such as Terry Christensen, which may have fallout for his famed firm of Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro. Already, the local legal press has speculated about that firm’s tenuous future.
But, unlike Christensen, Bert Fields hasn’t been indicted. Yet it’s his firm that is already breaking apart, thanks to Weitzman and Kinsella, who both insist their leaving has nothing to do with the Pellicano scandal. Which reminds me of something I learned when I recently spoke to Weitzman: He’s contemplating writing an autobiographical book. (Why do I think I’ve already read a version of it? Hint: A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey.) Howard also told me that, a while back, he’d talked to Allison Hope Weiner about writing the book with him. Weiner, a lawyer, had been an associate at Wyman Bautzer when Weitzman was a managing partner there, he said. Weiner is now half of The New York Times’ Pellicano reporting team that has written extensively about Fields’ involvement with Pellicano — but nary a word about Weitzman’s.
MEanwhile, the latest Pellicanoflap involving John McTiernan and Chuck Roven just gets curiouser and curiouser. On Monday, within hours of the U.S. Attorney accusing the director of Predator, Die Hard (1 and 3), The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero and The Thomas Crown Affair of lying to the FBI about hiring Pellicano to wiretap wealthy film producer Chuck Roven, I spoke to McTiernan’s current wife at the couple’s ranch home. Kate Harrington professed she didn’t know anything about the accusations against her husband and registered surprise at the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement when I read it to her.
“I’ve just returned home from a long trip,” she told me. “As far as I know, John and Chuck had a good relationship.” And she should know: She’s credited as a costume designer on Rollerball, the movie her husband directed and Roven produced. McTiernan wasn’t immediately available, his wife told me. Roven, through a spokesman, declined immediate comment on the matter. That’s because the FBI doesn’t want the victims mouthing off to the media. But it also appears likely the out-of-the-blue announcement was intended to send a message to Hollywood in general: something along the lines of, “Hey, people, don’t even try to lie to us because we’ve got the goods on all of you.”
Clearly, this is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and the iceman cometh. In recent weeks, my phones have been ringing off the hook with the names of major Hollywood players who may still become embroiled in the Pellicano scandal, none of whom have yet been mentioned by the feds or the press but whose involvement would roil this town. As it is, McTiernan is one of Hollywood’s most famous directors, and Roven is a wealthy Beverly Hills scion and producer of City of Angels, Three Kings, Scooby-Doo (1 and 2), and The Brothers Grimm, as well as the onetime husband of studio boss Dawn Steel until her 1997 death from a brain tumor. He’s since remarried, to restaurateur Stephanie Haymes.
If the bad blood stems from the 2002 MGM film Rollerball they did together, it’s understandable: It was plagued by hellacious problems, including bad buzz, delayed release and awful reviews. However, I spoke Monday to several MGM execs who could not recall any specific problems between McTiernan and Roven. Nor could the writer of a 2002 Los Angeles Times article about troubles surrounding the movie. This all seemed to back up the contention by Harrington, a well-known costume designer who also worked with McTiernan on The Thomas Crown Affair and The 13th Warrior. (Raised by Truman Capote from age 12 to 24, she worked as a model, then moved into fashion editorial for Town & Country, Interview and Vanity Fair magazines.)
The McTiernan-Roven mystery stumped Hollywood. Not even Tuesday’s editions of the Los Angeles Times or The New York Times could get to the bottom of it. I myself immediately assumed the U.S. Attorney’s announcement would be related to McTiernan’s nasty divorce from producer Donna Dubrow. After all, the multi-married McTiernan has been famously battling Dubrow, a Hollywood producer, over her settlement. Though the pair split in 1997, and Dubrow is now living with ex-studio boss Ned Tanen, the terms of their divorce are still “raging” before the courts, Dubrow told me Monday.
Dubrow said that McTiernan hired Pellicano in 1998 to investigate her. How’d she know this? “Because I saw the checks written to him,” she said. Dubrow also claimed she used to hear constant clicks on her phone line. She is formally asking the FBI to let her know if she was indeed wiretapped by Pellicano and if he’d been hired by her husband. Meanwhile, Dubrow told The New York Times that McTiernan had acknowledged — in a sworn deposition in their divorce case — that he had hired Pellicano to investigate her.
Dubrow and I speculated together about what might have been the reason behind any McTiernan-Roven bad blood. Usually, in disputes of this kind, it’s all about money. Yet we both recalled how understandably paranoid McTiernan was known to have become after he directed Sony’s Last Action Hero, which tanked at the box office despite pairing Arnold Schwarzenegger with Shane Black at the apex of their careers. I recalled Sony execs telling me at the time that McTiernan suspected several big Hollywood names of working double-time to spread bad early buzz about that movie to sink both McTiernan’s career and the struggling studio’s fortunes. Dubrow confirmed this. So McTiernan could have been crazed when his Rollerball — a remake of Norman Jewison’s 1975 futuristic classic — also began receiving bad early buzz many months before its scheduled release date. According to a Los Angeles Times story back in 2002, the Web site Ain’t It Cool News single-handedly delayed the film’s release and blew its chance at the box office.
McTiernan is scheduled for an arraignment April 17 on a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years. Hopefully, we’ll all find out what transpired before then.
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