For one long day and a half government witness Stephen Kolodny, divorce-lawyer-to-the-rich, gave details about his representation of former tennis pro Lisa Bonder in the take-no-prisoners child-custody fight between her and husbeen Kirk Kerkorian.
In 2002 Bonder was trying to get a state family court to force the agéd billionaire to nudge his daughter Kira’s monthly allotment northward – from $50,000 to $320,000. For his part, Kerkorian tasked Century City lawyer Terry Christensen with finding out who Kira’s biological dad was. Christensen then allegedly turned to the dark side -- by paying Sunset Strip private eye Anthony Pellicano $25,000 to get the ball rolling on a paternity search that would soon entail the remote wiretapping of Bonder’s home phone lines.
Today Christensen and Pellicano sit in the dock in federal court, accused of wiretapping and conspiracy. Department 840 of the Roybal Federal Building has become a kind of Brooks Brothers outlet, with benches packed with lawyers from Christensen’s own law firm and that of Terree Bowers, who, with Patty Glaser, is defending Christensen. Pellicano is representing himself.
Earlier in the week prosecutor Daniel Saunders announced the government probably would not call Bonder – whom both sides describe as charm-challenged – as a witness, meaning Kolodny might be the biggest fish hauled in from this dark corner of the case. Kolodny, a gray-haired, corpulent figure, resembles the actor Charles Durning, but his excruciatingly deliberate manner of speech (which extends to the way he pours himself a glass of water) ensured that this would be one tedious true confession. In fact, it was Kolodny and Bonder, whose calls Pellicano allegedly tapped and summarized for Christensen, who were ultimately victimized, as every step of their legal strategy against Kerkorian became instantly known to their enemies.
These foes included Pellicano himself, who occasionally complained to Judge Dale Fischer that he couldn’t hear the soft-spoken Kolodny – whom he personally dislikes.
“[W]hy doesn’t Terry let me go after the cocksucker?” Pellicano says to a lawyer about Kolodny, in a recorded phone conversation. This call is part of the six and half hours of calls, allegedly recorded in secret by Pellicano, that forms an important part of the government’s evidence arsenal. In a surprise move, though, it was the defense, during Glaser’s cross-examination of Kolodny, that played snippets of the recordings first – a strategic coup since this might create a juror impression that the defense “owns” them.
Finally, Kolodny vacated the witness stand and prosecutor Saunders got to play some of the recordings between Pellicano and Christensen. Their conversations began with the relaxed rapport of two guys who might occasionally bump into each other at the gym or country club locker room. Pellicano starts by pledging loyalty to his new boss, Christensen.
“I’m a Sicilian,” Pellicano says, in a now-familiar refrain.
“So am I –” replies Christensen with macho playfulness. “Not really. I’m a Viking.”
“Believe me,” Pellicano later says of his DNA-gathering techniques, “if I have to grab the guy on the fucking street and yank out a lock of his hair, I’ll do that.”
For a month and a half this David Mamet-like repartee continued, though at one point Pellicano’s malapropisms make him sound less like Joe Mantegna than Jimmy Durante: “You know I’m unrelentless!” Pellicano boasts.
“This woman is an evil fucking person,” Pellicano summarizes Lisa Bonder. “This is a woman who’s on the con all the time.”
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“Bring me the head of John the Baptist on a friggin’ platter,” Christensen says in the same conversation, relating to the search for Kira Kerkorian’s biodad – who would turn out to be real estate heir/movie producer Steve Bing.
“I need you to listen to me,” Pellicano demands. “Listen to me.”
“John the Baptist,” Christensen repeats.
Next week this theater goes dark for a judicial conference. When trial resumes August 5 both sides will study the jurors for signs of which side’s spin of the recordings will be believed – or if jurors even remember them.