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Sweating It Out in Summer Courtrooms

JULY ENDED AS THE WORLD of Leland Wong came crashing down, when a jury found the onetime Los Angeles city commish guilty of 14 felony counts of influence peddling. The month also saw life-without-parole sentences given to Juan Alvarez, whose on-again, off-again suicide attempt killed 11 Metrolink passengers after he abandoned his SUV on train tracks.

“Black Widows” Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt also received their just desserts for murdering two homeless men to get money from insurance policies. And the Anthony Pellicano Affair entered its summer-stock season with the wiretapping case against the former private eye and Century City superlawyer Terry Christensen.

Contrasting with these big moments were quieter vignettes ...

The Book Gets Thrown, and Hard

Time was not on Pedrito Bustamante’s side when he was wheeled into Department 104 for sentencing. The sand had run out of a large wooden hourglass sitting on Judge Robert J. Perry’s bench (a gift from hourglass-collector Lance Ito down the hall?), and Deputy D.A. Antonella Nistorescu had not yet shown up. “The little achievements are part of life’s surprises,” the judge remarked while waiting for the deputy D.A.

Eventually, D.A. Nistorescu appeared. Bustamante, a man in his 20s with no visible tattoos and no history of brushes with the law, had attempted to rob a barbershop at 9 a.m. one day.

Things hadn’t gone according to plan — if there had been one. A barber jumped Bustamante, whose gun discharged, ripping a hole through the barber’s hand. A second shot went into Bustamante’s leg, which explained why he now sat in a wheelchair. (Before the convict had arrived, Judge Perry told Deputy D.A. Hoon Chun that Bustamante’s wound wasn’t that bad, as he’d seen Bustamante getting around on crutches.)

By the time Perry finished sentencing him, Bustamante ended up with a staggering 39 years and eight months in prison — the years piling up almost exponentially for each barbershop customer he endangered that fateful day. To soften the blow, Perry had allowed 248 days of time served to be deducted from the sentence. The man in the wheelchair exhaled loudly. Bustamante looked at the ceiling, laughing bitterly.

“This is bullshit!” Bustamante muttered as a deputy sheriff wheeled him out of the courtroom. Then, Deputy D.A. Nistorescu swung into action. She had been doing the math during Perry’s sentencing and realized he’d undercounted the sentence by a year.

Judge Perry sighed when told he’d have to hand Bustamante an extra year, “I hate these robbery cases.”

Chun wondered aloud, “How much can you get from a barbershop at 9 in the morning? Wouldn’t you wait until closing?”

Perry decided against having Bustamante wheeled back in. Instead, the hapless robber would return next week to Department 104, to learn more about life’s surprises.

Gloria’s Soft Shoulders

The surprise about the sentencing of the media-dubbed “Black Widows,” Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt, wasn’t that these septuagenarians would be spending their remaining days in prison for murdering Paul Vados and Kenneth McDavid. The real question was, How was it physically possible for Gloria Allred to be present at yet another trial?

Allred has become a fixture on TV wherever there’s a Woman-Wronged story. Usually, the center of the screen is filled with a tearful woman whose head gently rests on a large, pillowy piece of red fabric. When the camera pulls back the upholstery is revealed to be nothing other than the shoulder of one of Allred’s power suits.

Whether the litigants are the owners of Moe the Chimp, a cross-dressing woman ejected from a ladies’ room, or Rob Lowe’s nanny, Allred always manages to turn other people’s misery into a photo op.

On July 15 she strolled into Judge David S. Wesley’s courtroom with a no-nonsense grimace on her face. She began passing out scripts to female kin of Paul Vados, arranging the speaking order like a baseball coach announcing a game’s batting lineup.

“I loved my father, Paul Vados, very much,” began one of the statements — which bore Allred’s phone number and e-mail at the top, and which were later distributed to the press. Allred accompanied each of Vados’ relatives to the podium, bracing the women with a pinstriped arm and helping out with one of the readings herself.

Later, at the outdoor press conference, one of the Widows’ lawyers watched Allred address the microphones.

“How does she get so many cases?” he wondered in awe. “I hear she offers her services for free and attaches herself to the families.” Then it was his turn to speak, and he moved toward the cameras.


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