“BRING ME THE FATHER. Bring me the father’s head on a platter. Because there is, like, more than a hundred thousand in it for you, okay?”
So said über-attorney Terry Christensen in 2002 as he hired supersleuth and fixeur Anthony Pellicano to discover the true father of the baby daughter of Christensen’s client, Kirk Kerkorian. At the time, the land-and-entertainment baron was engaged in a pitiless legal war with his former wife, one-time tennis pro Lisa Bonder, a woman nearly a half-century his junior.
The couple were married for 28 days in 1997, before Bonder convinced the billionaire she was pregnant with his child, Kira. Kerkorian agreed to be the daughter’s legal father and provided $50,000 a month in child support. Within a few years, Bonder was demanding $320,000 per month. Kerkorian, having grown suspicious of Kira’s paternity, asked his attorney Christensen to hire Pellicano to dig out the truth.
On July 17, Christensen and Pellicano, both 64, went on trial on two federal counts each of wiretapping and conspiracy. The government charges that Pellicano, with Christensen’s full encouragement, did more than research Kira Kerkorian’s paternity, tapping Lisa Bonder’s phones and becoming privy to all of her conversations with her attorney. Arguing his client’s innocence, Christensen’s defense attorney points to the absence of any physical evidence that wiretapping actually occurred.
Pellicano’s defense? Anyone’s guess, as he temporarily passed on delivering an opening statement.
In May, Pellicano was convicted of 76 felony counts involving wiretapping, conspiracy and racketeering. Early Thursday morning, he was brought from his downtown Los Angeles prison cell to a courtroom packed with media and spectators, many of whom were from Christensen’s law firm, Christensen, Glaser, Fink, Jacobs, Weil and Shapiro.
Unlike Pellicano’s first trial, there will be no easy handshakes and gracious legal advice offered by his co-defendant’s attorneys. After prosecutor Kevin Lally delivered a relatively brief opening statement, Christensen’s lawyer, Patty Glaser, tried to put miles between her client and Pellicano. She accused the Private Eye to the Stars of conning Christensen while secretly working for little Kira Kerkorian’s true father — who, in a nonhygienic twist following a DNA test of dental floss in a garbage can, turned out to be a third party entirely, real estate heir Steve Bing.
Glaser, who reportedly has never tried a criminal case, quickly revealed the defense’s twin strategies — to spin Christensen’s seemingly incriminating “bring me the father” quotes as the words of a trusting and guileless man, and to claim that the six and a half hours of recorded phone conversations between him and Pellicano that prosecutors will play in court have been digitally edited (presumably by Pellicano, who secretly recorded the calls) to make Christensen sound guilty.
For 100 minutes, Patty Glaser quoted Christensen to show how clueless he was about Pellicano’s alleged illegal wiretapping activities. If Christensen sounded a little ruthless, however, his words were no match for quotes Glaser provided from the unpalatable Lisa Bonder.
“When that motherfucker calls,” Bonder was quoted on Glaser’s PowerPoint screen as saying about her own child, “tell him I killed the fucking baby! The baby is dead!”
Some may put Bonder’s outburst down to postpartum depression. Later, Glaser quoted Bonder as calling a lawyer and telling the attorney she was on her way to Kerkorian’s home to kill him.
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“We will show that Lisa Bonder had threatened violence against Mr. Kerkorian and her own daughter,” Glaser told jurors. “And I mean violence — the K Word. To kill.”
Glaser’s opening statement was filled with PowerPoint graphics and old-fashioned charts that her minions mounted on wooden easels. Her colleague, Robert Shapiro, assiduously took notes in the spectators’ gallery. He only looked up twice to gauge jury responses — when Glaser mentioned Christensen’s involvement in local charities and to see how her use of a Benjamin Franklin quote went over.
Many of the same journalists covered the first Pellicano trial and a shudder of near-revulsion ran through them as Thursday’s first FBI witness narrated the tedious old details of the government’s 2002 raid of Pellicano’s West Hollywood offices. Still, Pellicano II offers a more focused narrative of sex, megalomania and wiretaps than its predecessor, and the potential A-list of witnesses is still, tantalizingly, under court seal.
It should last a month, but already, one juror set an ominous tone by asking to be excused, saying she felt overwhelmed. Judge Dale Fischer then rolled out the flag, persuading her to stay by comparing jurors to soldiers defending our Constitution overseas. This strange incident, nevertheless, seemed to be an unlucky portent.