Dysfunctional business as usual at Pellicano trial

When we last left the trial of Anthony Pellicano and four co-defendants, the proceedings had been thrown into chaos after attorney Chad Hummel’s cross examination of a “businesswoman” whom the government had called to the witness stand to testify about a bankruptcy petition allegedly filed in 1998 by defendant Mark Arneson. In a coup de jure, Hummel, Arneson's counsel, exposed witness Phyllis Miller as a possible participant in a criminal scheme to defraud Arneson. Court let out early last Friday as lawyers and reporters alike scrambled to make sense of what had just happened and what it could mean for the fate of the trial. At the very least it seemed probable that Arneson would either be removed from the proceedings, either through a mistrial or severance. But could Arneson’s leaving have a domino effect on his erstwhile co-defendants or would his exit merely have oblique consequences?

Monday came and Judge Dale Fischer, after reading briefs from both sides over the weekend and hearing them make further appeals this morning, denied Hummel’s motion for a mistrial. It was as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened Friday – or that the judge couldn’t possibly conceive of circumstances in which the proceedings would not play out with the rote schedule of a baseball game. And so this increasingly bizarre trial continues, its contentious participants bound together by a strange co-dependency. For the third time prosecutor Daniel Saunders had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Two weeks ago he had inappropriately referenced an LAPD Internal Affairs Division interview regarding Arneson; then, during a court break that same day, he had told Hummel that Arneson had perjured himself — while jurors were still within earshot; and it was Saunders’ summoning of Miller to the witness stand last week, without vetting her credibility, that led to Hummel’s dramatic J’accuse moment.

Without admitting any specific errors in judgment or so much as expressing a perfunctory Whoops!, a chastened Saunders simply accepted most of Hummel’s fallback demands – to request that all of the previous unfavorable testimony about Arneson’s supposed bankruptcy be stricken. Judge Fischer agreed to this, turning down an additional Hummel request that jurors be told exactly why Miller's testimony was suddenly being tossed down the memory hole. Mistakes were made, but the show – I mean, trial – must go on.

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