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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Beldar's ruminations on the challenges faced by Paris Hilton's lawyer

It appears that pampered, pouty, petulant Paris may have pivoted once again, bringing her a full 540 degrees from the outrage and claims of anti-celebrity discrimination that she (and her family, publicists, and lawyers) originally voiced after she was originally sentenced to 45 days in jail for repeatedly violating the terms of her probation, and then renewed when her house arrest release was countermanded. From yesterday, per the Associated Press (via WaPo):

Paris Hilton said Saturday she was "learning and growing" from her time behind bars and will not appeal her 45-day jail sentence for a probation violation in a reckless driving case.

The hotel heiress was at a maximum-security detention center, where she was believed to have undergone medical and psychiatric evaluations to determine the best jail to keep her in.

"Being in jail is by far the hardest thing I have ever done," Hilton said in a statement released by her lawyer, Richard A. Hutton. "During the past several days, I have had a lot of time to think and I believe that I am learning and growing from this experience."

Hilton, in tears and screaming for her mother, was taken to the downtown Twin Towers detention center Friday after a judge ordered her back to jail, ending her brief stint under house arrest....

"Today, I told my attorneys not to appeal the judge's decision," Hilton said. "While I greatly appreciate the sheriff's concern for my health and welfare, I intend to serve my time at L.A. County Jail."

I am not among the "Paris-haters" who hoot with glee to see her in tears, in cuffs, and in a squad car. Nevertheless, watching this all play out, I can't help but muse on the challenges that would be faced by whoever is in the position of acting as her lawyer.

Paris Hilton and fanI am certain that I have almost the fewest Hollywood/Los Angeles connections possible. That is to say, for example, that I have no "friend's brother (who works with [Sheriff Lee] Baca's assistant sheriffs," nor do I seek commenters on my blog who do, and thus I am poorly positioned to spread genuinely nasty rumors — and no, I'm not going to leak to the post with the nasty rumor from which I'm quoting, but I will link (disapprovingly) to the site (which might become a pretty entertaining one if its young lawyer-writers will grow up just a little). So I have utterly no inside information.

But I'm among many who've wondered to what extent Ms. Hilton's release to house arrest was the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of her legal team, or whether instead it mostly reflected a turf fight between L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca and Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, and/or their respective minions. I note, for example, that Los Angeles County had no fewer than five lawyers present — more than either Ms. Hilton or the Los Angeles City Attorney's office — at last Friday's hearing.

The problem for whoever is Paris Hilton's lawyer, of course, is that Ms. Hilton — apparently through plans of her mother, dating back to her birth — has a media persona based on being a media persona. She's famous for being famous. That being the starting point, the main challenge of any lawyer in representing her is going to be to get her back onto an "ordinary person" playing field.

For Ms. Hilton to get the benefit of any "slack" that the system regularly cuts ordinary people, she — and, especially, all of her entourage and family — have to cooperate with her lawyer to prepare her for the most extraordinary acting job she has ever undertaken: Acting like a grown-up who is not a celebrity.

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Paris Hilton's original lawyer either counseled, or at least permitted, conduct in the courtroom guaranteed to do the exact opposite: Late to court, mother showing contempt of court both inside and outside the courtroom, promiscuous but utterly hollow threats of appeals, and conspicuous whining by all concerned. The order revoking her probation effectively gave Ms. Hilton et alia precisely what they seemed (stupidly but unequivocally) to be demanding from the judge, which is to say: A judicial spotlight on her further compliance with her legal obligations, including her confinement, to go along with the media spotlights.

That's why I don't agree with those bloggers and other pundits (including TV talking-head lawyers) who've argued in Paris Hilton's defense that she's being persecuted because she was a celebrity. If she'd ever once stopped acting like she thought she was above the the law before her probation was revoked, I might have gone along with that. But she didn't — probably because of bad legal advice, or else because she and her family were ignoring legal advice to the contrary. To those who sputter that no one else in the L.A. County Jail right now is doing 45 days for a probation violation after pleading no contest to an alcohol-related reckless driving, my reply is: Nobody else arranged the sort of media stunt that she did when the courts were considering revoking her probation. Nobody else challenged the courts' authority the way she did. Nobody else picked that kind of fight, and so nobody else was in one like it.

The first 180-degree turn toward responsibility, dignity, and acknowledgment that she was not above the law, about which I blogged previously, coincided with Ms. Hilton's change of lawyers. It looked to me as if new counsel Richard A. Hutton had fairly effectively put the kabosh on all that when she quietly surrendered herself to begin her stay. Not only were the statements he released on her behalf modest and contrite, but her public, oral statements for the inevitable cameras were too. (I assume he practiced those with her. That would be in the nature of appropriate legal counseling — even if it seemed awfully close to being an acting coach too.)

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Were I Paris Hilton's lawyer, I would have had a mandatory attendance cattle-prod enforced "come to Jesus meeting" with Ms. Hilton but especially with her mother, father, and publicists, in which I would have threatened everyone except the client within an inch of their lives if they said more than two words — "no comment!" — to any press, paparazzi, or anyone else about the entire affair. No comments on the judge, no comments on the sentence, no comments on her medical or mental condition, no comment on the muffins — a complete media blackout.

And I'm not kidding about the cattle prod. I'd have insisted that everyone present sign a release authorizing me to use it on them if they leaked anything to anyone — else, find yourself another lawyer. (Yeah, it would have been a bluff, a dramatic gesture, at least to start with, but it is Hollywood, and what started as bluff might not have turned out to remain that! At a minimum, her lawyer needs the power to banish anyone, including her parents, to Siberia during the remainder of her incarceration.)

Controlling his client's family and entourage is, without question, the greatest challenge for the lawyer representing Ms. Hilton, but I don't mean to minimize the difficulty he may have dealing specifically with her too. She's 26. At 26, you no longer get full benefit of the excuse, "My mother raised me not to take responsibility." You don't in the eyes of the law, anyway, and you don't in the eyes of most of the public.

Whether she is just emotionally immature or genuinely mentally dim — and I don't assume her public image of being an airhead necessarily reflects reality — it would be essential for her lawyer to get her to the point of genuine understanding of the "act like a grown-up (if you want to catch any breaks)" strategy. Once she thoroughly understood the strategy, the lawyer ought then keep constantly reminding her of it. If she can't stick with the program, it's going to be her who pays the price, quite literally, and she has to have that kept constantly at the front of her thoughts.

Just as importantly, or perhaps more importantly, the lawyer would need to constantly threaten (cattle prod well charged) anyone else around her who might indulge any tendencies she naturally will have toward self-pity. If she slips, that might be excusable. It's her family, her entourage, and the other people around her — the ones who do get to go home from the jail every night — who can't and mustn't be excused if they treat her now as anything other than a grown-up who is not a celebrity. There is no doubt in my mind that those folks have been harming her legal interests — and probably her psychological interests too, although that's outside my expertise.

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So whose plan was it to have her private psychiatrist furnish evidence to Sheriff Baca that became the ostensible medical basis for her release to house arrest? I wonder if it was someone other than Mr. Hutton's — because any lawyer with a lick of sense and three working olfactory bulbs could have smelled what was coming next. And given the trial judge's express written prohibition on house arrest, only an idiot — or a hyper-egotistical elected public official with a strong if unjustified sense that he's entitled to run the damn jail his way without interference from those damned judges, thank you very much — could have believed that gambit would work without having first sought the judge's permission.

That may have been a lost cause in any event, but for it to have had any chance of working, it would have had to have been arranged in a manner that was demonstrably, unquestionably within ordinary channels — channels starting with the lowest-level personnel responsible for supervising her custody (not with Sheriff Baca or anyone within about three levels of reporting directly to him) and then working up through county (not private) medical experts.

Anyway, according to the AP quote attributed to her — and I presume it was penned by Mr. Hutton — Ms. Hilton appears to be back on script. Let's hope she can stick to it; and if that takes a few sedatives prescribed by the county medical authorities, so be it. In any event, I again wish him, and her, the best of luck. (And I hope Mr. Hutton has his cattle prod fully charged.)

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Last comment: Shame on you, people of Los Angeles County! If your jails are indeed so chronically overcrowded that people sentenced to them routinely are released after doing 10% of the time to which they are sentenced, then you, the public who have not insisted on better from your elected officials, are complicit in a fraud upon and mockery of the judicial system. I'm sure there are those among you who've pointed this out already and rail against it regularly; I'm sure that those charged with actually upholding the law and enforcing penalties for its violation must be horribly frustrated, to the point of cynicism. But if you have to build ten times as many jails as you have now, then build them. Otherwise, you're no more mature collectively than Paris Hilton when she's off-script — "Mommy!"

Posted by Beldar at 07:50 AM in Current Affairs, Law (2007) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) nk made the following comment | Jun 10, 2007 10:07:54 AM | Permalink

Excellent post, Beldar.

I am inclined to be even kinder to the Sheriff. Not so much a turf war as: "Woe unto you lawyers for you place burdens on men grievous to bear and lend not a finger in the lifting of them. You know I'm under a federal court decree that obligates me to release far more dangerous prisoners when they have only done one-tenth of their time yet you impose unreasonable conditions in this case".

I have been watching this tension between courts and corrections since 1979. The courts funnel prisoners into the corrections system without, as corrections sees it, enough regard whether there is space for them.

It is not merely sufficiency of space BTW, it is also sufficiency of guards. Varying levels of security require varying levels of guard to prisoner ratios. If there are not enough guards, the guards' danger increases. To lower that danger, prisoners spend more time in lockdown. Stacked like cordwood. Until a successful 1983 action which creates Sheriff Baca's dilemma.

(2) LazyMF made the following comment | Jun 10, 2007 6:01:45 PM | Permalink

Her current lawyer obviously wrote Paris' statement from jail that you quoted above.

Had Paris written it, it would have read, "alot" instead of "a lot."

(3) Steve Cox made the following comment | Jun 10, 2007 8:06:11 PM | Permalink

Why Paris should serve all of her term: Unlike normal people she can afford it.

(4) Halteclere made the following comment | Jun 10, 2007 10:39:04 PM | Permalink

Not knowing anything about how the courts / correction facilities operate, my initial thought was that holding a person like Paris has to be a major pain to the particular facility - security reasons such as tons of photographers camped at the entrance causing distractions if not worse, continuous calls from reporters, the possibility of a guard sneaking a picture of Paris behind bars to be sold resulting in a lawsuit, etc. And therefore the sooner that she could be removed (from the facility's perspective) from the premises the better.

That being said, in no shape or form should justice be metered out differently based on the status of the offender, and I applaud Judge Sauer for not brooking Paris' transfer to house arrest.

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