Comedian Garry Shandling was looking tan, fit and rested Thursday as he emerged from obscurity to testify in the racketeering trial of Anthony Pellicano and four co-defendants. He seemed less contemptuous of Pellicano than of his former business manager, current Paramount Pictures chief Brad Grey – whom he accused of stealing his writing commissions from The Larry Sanders Show, the hit HBO series Shandling created in the 1990s.
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Shandling claimed that when he lawyered up to regain the commissions and possession of his contracts with Grey, Shandling and his friends become the targets of Pellicano’s surveillance after Grey’s attorney, Bert Fields, hired the private investigator. The comic also said he was the bull’s eye of a smear campaign conducted in the press at the same time.
Assistant U.S. attorney Kevin Lally reopened the wounds of that decade-old legal war when he showed Shandling page after page of police-database information dug up by Pellicano’s purported LAPD handyman, Mark Arneson. Those contained names, addresses, arrest warrant information and blacked-out Social Security numbers of Shandling, his assistant, his accountant, his security adviser Gavin de Becker and his friend, comedian Kevin Nealon.
“This continues to bother me as I go down the list,” Shandling said quietly.
A strong witness, Shandling had been sandwiched between four days of prosecution testimony by Tarita Virtue. The former Pellicano employee, appearing under an immunity grant, always arrived at the Roybal Federal Building attired completely in black, from scarf to gloves. And why not? It wasn’t her funeral, but possibly that of her old boss. Day after day Virtue described in damning detail the acts of privacy piracy committed by the Pellicano Investigative Agency, Ltd. – as well as its hellish work environment.
Women employees, Virtue recalled, were routinely cursed by Pellicano and many only lasted an hour or two on the job before quitting in tears. Those who remained were required at the end of each day to stop by the boss’s office to give him a kiss and good-bye hug. And they all assumed their private calls at work were tapped. Needless to say, none of the agency’s 14 rooms at 9200 Sunset Boulevard that have been diagrammed at trial contained an HR office. Once during her time there, Virtue spoke aloud while Pellicano had asked for silence.
“All right – you’re fucking fired!” she says Pellicano shouted. “Get your shit and leave!” Yet after sacking Virtue, Pellicano ordered her to remain at her desk to reflect on what she had done wrong. Hours passed before she was allowed to leave – and she later had to grovel to win back her job.
All this took place at Christmas time, 2000. Perhaps Pellicano’s agency wasn’t Santa’s Village to work at but, defense lawyers seemed to suggest on cross-examination, neither did Virtue live up to her name. Except, maybe, when it came to her Myspace page handle, “Boobs and Brains.” Again and again the lawyers showed screen shots of her Web site (www.taritavirtue.com) and its photos displaying her wearing nothing but white panties and long hair. Defense lawyers repeatedly tried to ask about her use of ecstasy and marijuana before being overruled by Judge Dale Fischer.
Virtue did allow that she took Ritalin, birth control pills and an unidentified psychotropic drug that Virtue needs for depression and calls her “happy pills.” She was going to need plenty of those later, when Pellicano shambled forward as his own counsel to cross-examine the prosecution’s song bird. Finally the canary was meeting the pelican in court.
It had been clear that Pellicano had been some sort of surrogate father to Virtue, but now the courtroom was about to see how deep the star government witness’s Electra complex ran. The confrontation was astonishing as Virtue tearfully accused Pellicano of threatening her life, while the old P.I. claimed she was feeling guilt and remorse for betraying him by cooperating with the government.
“We had this father-daughter relationship,” Pellicano admitted to Virtue during his cross-examination, only to twist the knife. “Aren’t these conversations you’re having about Mr. Pellicano,” he said in a lifeless voice, referring to himself in the third person, “really about your own father?”
For what seemed like an eternity the court melted away before passionate, accusatory debate between prodigal daughter and indicted father figure. Spectators and lawyers alike sat transfixed, mouths agape — even Federal prosecutor Daniel Saunders seemed spellbound by the verbal duel, unable to raise his voice in objection. Forget Electra – this exchange was more psychodrama than Greek tragedy.
Also read last week's Pellicano Brief, Anthony Pellicano's Gang of Five Stand Trial: It isn't racket science.