BY NOW, ROUGHLY HALFWAY THROUGH the Anthony Pellicano trial, Judge Dale Fischer’s Kleenex box has migrated all the way to the witness stand, where it’s seen heavy use. On Wednesday, Lisa Gores reached for it as she testified about her billion-dollar adultery against husband Alec Gores. Sometime in 2000, Lisa grew tired of the world’s 785th richest man (according to Forbes) and traded up to Mr. 553 — Alec’s brother, Tom. Ms. Gores’ tears weren’t for having loved unwisely but rather because a wiretap recording of a call between her and Tom Gores was now public. (It would be played in court the next day, after Lisa had settled into a flight bound for Europe.)
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The alleged wiretapper was the alleged source of all villainy in this trial, private investigator Anthony Pellicano. Much of the week’s testimony lacked the steam and spice of l’affaire Gores, however. Former Pellicano employee Wayne Reynolds proudly spoke of his 17 years as a Marine reservist who’d served in Afghanistan but left after having admitted to lying to federal investigators about Pellicano’s wiretaps. He also spoke of having tried to use his knowledge of Pellicano’s eavesdropping abilities as skirt bait around the office. Reynolds claimed to have enjoyed a “father-son” relationship with his boss, whom he called “Pop” and who, Reynolds says, introduced him as his son.
Then there was Chatsworth businessman George Kalta, who’d been charged in 2001 with sexual assault on a 17-year-old Whittier woman. Like Reynolds, he admitted to knowing of Pellicano’s privacy piracy; both men testified under immunity agreements. At barely 5-foot-2 (at least according to DMV info shown in court) and weighing in, probably, near 200 pounds, Kalta cut a curious figure, explaining how he was forced by three heart attacks to retire from his job as a lighting contractor. He brought his own handkerchief, with which he repeatedly dabbed his eyes and face as prosecutor Kevin Lally played back surreptitiously recorded phone calls with Pellicano.
At one point in the calls, Pellicano brags about having called in a favor “downtown” to get the investigation into Kalta’s alleged battery of Laura Moreno dropped. He sounds hopeful that an abortion will surface in Moreno’s past, which, he oddly concludes, would automatically kill her sex-assault case against Kalta.
Pellicano, according to Kalta, “went ballistic” when Kalta switched lawyers from Pellicano’s pal Danny Davis to the PI’s self-described “bitter enemy,” Leslie Abramson. “Leslie Abramson is going to have a big fucking problem for life!” Pellicano warns in one discussion with Kalta.
Then, as new charges hit Kalta, Pellicano warns him of the jury troubles this Arab will face: “They may say, ‘That Arab cocksucker did something …’ ” Despite this bias, Pellicano was certain that a jury could be won over by his expansive ethnic blindness: Pellicano had helped Kami Hoss, who was acquitted in 2002 of feeding Ecstasy and liquor to a woman found dead 12 floors beneath Kalta’s hotel balcony. And Hoss was Iranian. (On Tuesday, jurors heard a recording of Pellicano, with another client, refering to an Arab individual as a “sand nigger.”)
Kalta fiddled with his wedding ring as they played back the tape, on which he says how much he wants accuser Moreno to be exposed as a liar. “They’re all persecuting me,” he says angrily.
The one thing that threads through this case is how people average and illustrious have needed Pellicano’s special talents to clear up sordid behavior. From venture capitalists, movie directors and superagents to lighting contractors and dentists, they or their lawyers came to 9200 Sunset Boulevard to enlist Pellicano. Human nature is flawed everywhere, but when hearing this testimony, you can’t help but think Los Angeles has it in concentrated form. Years ago, Paul Newman’s PI character in Harper told Lauren Bacall: “Your husband keeps lousy company, Mrs. Sampson, as bad as there is in L.A. And that’s as bad as there is.”
Acting as his own attorney, Pellicano sometimes seems to have really gotten the hang of it as he brings out inconsistencies in testimony against him. Then there are the days when his lack of legal training shows: Twice this week he spun his wheels trying to get witnesses to recall interviews by the FBI, only to be cut off repeatedly by Judge Fischer because of inappropriate phrasing. Finally, taking pity, she let him consult with Chad Hummel, attorney for co-defendant Mark Arneson. Yet Pellicano wasn’t the only one who lacked the basics of cross-examination, and Fischer warned both prosecutors and defense counsels to stop using redirected examinations and re-crosses, respectively, to repeat questions they’d already asked. Such log-rolling has slowed proceedings to a crawl.
The mood in the gallery was restless, and it was really no wonder when, during Hummel’s cross-exam of Kalta, a diminutive female sitting behind the prosecutor’s table whispered to Kevin Lally to object — which he did. Nor was it a surprise when that woman stood up and cried, “Objection!” She was, after all, Leslie Abramson.