Watching Michael Ovitz take the stand today, one couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't a small part (or a big part) of the former super agent that was enjoying being back in the spotlight. He calmly sipped his water between questions and during one sidebar took the occasion to reapply his chapstick. The courtroom can be a very dry place.
And, there was a calmness about Mr. Ovitz as he told about how the press and his enemies actually caused his perfectly healthy management company to falter. During his testimony, he told the jury that his company was "doing just fine" until those stinkin' journalists started writing about it and ruining everything. It all sounded really believable except for those of us who remember that AMG wasn't exactly doing just fine when Bernard Weinraub and Anita Busch started writing about the company and Mr. Ovitz. But then, to give Mr, Ovitz the benefit of the doubt, everyone has their own definition of just fine. Maybe Mr. Ovitz thought it didn't really matter that AMG had to close down its television group and that Canal Plus did an audit of the company's production group. Fine can be a relative term. "That audit found no wrong-doing," Mr. Ovitz pointed out, just in case someone in the jury thought that being audited by one of your partners might mean that your company isn't doing "just fine."
As for Mr. Ovitz and Mr. Pellicano, they seemed to still have a mutual admiration society. Mr. Ovitz talked about how great Mr. Pellicano was, how helpful and how he paid him $75,000 in cash to get him information about these people who were saying and writing bad things about him and his company, AMG. [Click here to hear Ovitz and Pellicano set up a meeting.] Mr. Ovitz also said that Mr. Pellicano needed the money to "run his business." And, on cross-examination, Mr. Ovitz took the opportunity to heap even more praise on the disgraced ex-private eye to the stars. "Mr. Pellicano always gave me good advice and when a lot of people were abandoning the ship, he didn't," recalled Mr. Ovitz. "You poured out your heart to him, didn't you?" asked Mr. Hummel on cross. "He was always an open ear," said Mr. Ovitz, completely oblivious to the irony of his statement.
A source close to the case (who didn't want to be identified because they believe that Mr. Ovitz should have been charged) happened to mention that the statute runs out today on any charges in connection with Mr. Ovitz's alleged wiretapping of his enemies (including Ms. Busch). So, the good news for Mr. Ovitz is that unless he committed perjury today during his testimony today, he's in the clear. The other good news for Mr. Ovitz is that, for now, the contents of his calendar from December 2001 to January, 2002 will remain confidential. Despite having subpoenaed the calendar from Mr. Ovitz, the government chose not to enter it into evidence. And it's really a shame because Mr. Ovitz had an interesting and busy schedule during that year. There's no mention of any meetings with Anthony Pellicano, but one wonders why not? Given Mr. Ovitz's testimony today, he clearly met with Mr. Pellicano on a number of occasions. I guess he just chose to leave it off his calendar.
The government also wasn't interested in really going over Mr. Ovitz's statements to the F.B.I. And, again, that's too bad since the government clearly believes (based on Mr. Saunders re-direct of Mr.Ovitz) that he was behind the threats against Anita Busch. It would have been riveting to hear Mr. Ovitz explain to the jury why he hired Mr. Pellicano. In an F.B.I. interview from 12/12/2003, Mr. Ovitz told Agent Ballard and Agent Ornellas that he and Pellicano "operated on a cash basis." He said, according to the F.B.I. notes, "this was at Pellicano's insistence. Pellicano explained that he operated in a cash world. The people who worked on his cases and provided him with information and services demanded cash." And, Ovitz told the agents, "a demand for cash was how Pellicano usually ended his conversations with Ovitz." But when Mr. Ovitz was asked by Mr. Saunders why Mr. Pellicano demanded cash payments, Mr. Ovitz's memory failed. "Mr. Pellicano told me he 'needed cash to run his business.'" Mr. Saunders asked again, "anything else?" Mr. Ovitz thought for a second and then said again, "just that he needed it to operate his business."
And then, it was Mr. Ovitz's turn to explain to the jury that the government had never threatened to charge him with any wrong-doing. When asked to sum up what the government had told him, he smugly said during cross-examination, "Yes, Mr. Saunders attempted to put words in my mouth. He said to tell the truth." But one has to wonders if anyone from the government also told Mr. Ovitz that while he was busy telling the truth that he should try not to mention all of the names of the people he had Mr. Pellicano investigate. Because despite the fact that he told the F.B.I. that he had Mr. Pellicano look into three different litigation matters as well as David Geffen, Ron Meyer, Ron Burkle, Anita Busch, and Bernard Weinraub, Mr. Ovitz testified to only having Mr. Pellicano look into Mr. Geffen and Mr. Meyer. Maybe he was told to stick to just one or two people that he'd asked Pellicano to investigate.
And maybe, just maybe, he was also told not to go into the three or four in-person meetings that he told the F.B.I. he'd had with Mr. Pellicano or how Mr. Pellicano had gotten him an advance copy of a Vanity Fair article or, especially, how Mr. Pellicano gave him a verbal report regarding Ms. Busch, Mr. Weinraub and Mr. Geffen. Certainly no juror wants to hear Mr. Ovitz talking about how he paid Mr. Pellicano to brief him on Anita Busch, especially since Ms. Busch was about to take the stand next.
In contrast, the government decided to have Ms. Busch testify about everything she'd ever told the F.B.I., including the painful details of several alleged threats that were made against her life. Speaking in an almost inaudible voice, Ms. Busch told about how she was threatened on numerous occasions and at one point, after almost being run down by a car, was confronted by an unknown man who gestured to her to keep quiet and then ominously waved good-bye. Ms. Busch began to cry as she relived that incident and struggled to compose herself before going on to testify about dealing with her phone being wiretapped, her emails being intercepted and her career being destroyed. So, basically, Ms. Busch testified to being tortured by Anthony Pellicano (or his employees), right after Mr. Ovitz testified to having hired Mr. Pellicano to "get him information" on Ms. Busch. But, as Mr. Ovitz said at the end of his testimony, he had "no idea" that Mr. Pellicano would illegally wiretap his targets or follow them or harass them. "I assumed that whatever he did, he did legally," said Mr. Ovitz, looking shocked that anyone would even ask such a question. "I never instructed him to do anything illegal."
But, according to Ms. Busch, that's exactly what he did. And after being forced to endure alleged harassment, wiretapping and death threats from Mr. Pellicano, Ms. Busch was forced to endure just one more indignity today--Mr. Pellicano's cross-examination. With one hand placed behind his back and one sneaker clad foot resting casually on the podium, Mr. Pellicano sought to portray Ms. Busch as a money-seeking journalists who'd somehow made up the fact that she was stalked, harassed, threatened, wiretapped and then, forced to give up her own career. After Ms. Busch explained that following seeing the dead fish and rose on her car (along with the bullet hole in the front windshield), she met with her editor and the L.A. Times' attorney, Mr. Pellicano wondered what she was doing meeting with her editor and lawyer. Ms. Busch explained that she was a journalist and as such, had special obligations in dealing with law enforcement.
Mr. Pellicano also used his cross to suggest that perhaps Ms. Busch hadn't been threatened on one occasion because she'd failed to report the incident to the police. "It was a relentless attack as you know Mr. Pellicano," Ms. Busch shot back. Not content to be known as just the man who'd allegedly wiretapped and threatened Anita Busch, Mr. Pellicano sought to establish that he had some very respectable clients around the time Anita Busch was threatened--something that Mr. Ovitz had already pointed out. "When you met with the F.B.I. and the attorney and others at the L.A. Times, was there a conversation about who to call?" Mr. Pellicano asked, knowing the answer to his question for a change. "The lawyer suggested calling you to investigate," Ms. Busch replied. "But you don't have a very good reputation."
Finally, Mr. Pellicano decided that just in case Ms. Busch wasn't enough of a mess (she'd already cried through a good portion of his cross and refused to meet his piercing gaze), Mr. Pellicano wanted to push her over the edge. "So, you looked for a license plate [on the car that allegedly tried to run you down] but there was none," he said, repeating her testimony for at least the fifth time. That's how he does cross-examination. Ask a question, get an answer, fail to hear the answer, ask the question again, get another answer, repeat the answer and inwardly smile at inflicting torture on the freakishly patient Judge. "Did you call the F.B.I.?" Mr. Pellicano asked. Before Ms. Busch could answer, Mr. Pellicano was all over it--"Please let me finish my question," he snapped in a manner that he definitely did not learn at the Chad Hummel school of cross-examination.
Oh, and there was one really strange question from Mr. Pellicano to Ms. Busch. He wondered aloud if she'd had any conversations with Bo Zenga about the Brad Grey lawsuit--back then. It made me wonder how Mr. Pellicano would know that Ms. Busch might have been chatting with Mr. Zenga back then. Makes you wonder why someone from the government didn't follow that question up.
At the end of the day, former New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub took the stand. Mr. Weinraub seemed confused about how to negotiate around the exhibits, about his driver's license number and about how you don't answer a question after the Judge has sustained an objection to that question. Clearly, Mr. Weinraub is not a fan of Law and Order. Mr. Weinraub's testimony was brief and relatively uneventful since Mr. Pellicano chose not to subject him to the disrespectful and often nasty grilling he'd inflicted on Anita Busch. In fact, Mr. Pellicano was so polite to Mr. Weinraub that he even commented on Mr. Weinraub's need to protect his sources. Wondering at whether Ms. Busch was the major contributor in the anti-Ovitz stories the two reporters did together back in 2002, Mr. Pellicano politely inquired about who accessed the most sources. Showing a concern for the first amendment that apparently doesn't extend to reporters writing about this trial or posting audio recordings of Mr. Pellicano, the former detective deferentially questioned Mr. Weinraub. ""Without relating sources--I know you reporters like to keep sources close to your heart--were you a major contributor to the articles about Mr. Ovitz?" Naturally, Mr. Weinraub, like any reporter, chose to credit Ms. Busch with only 50% of the credit on the Ovitz pieces. All of which drove Mr. Pellicano to inquire as to why Ms. Busch had been threatened and not Mr. Weinraub, when both had contributed to the same stories.
Hmmm....let me ponder that one. Why would Mr. Pellicano (and allegedly Mr. Ovitz) decide to threaten a freelancer like Anita Busch who had no official ties with the New York Times and not someone like Mr. Weinraub, a full time, staff writer, stationed in Hollywood with the full support of the paper of record? Puzzling.....
UP TOMORROW: THE GOVERNMENT CALLS A FEW FINAL WITNESSES TO TESTIFY ABOUT MR. PELLICANO'S INVESTIGATION OF SLY STALLONE. And, they play a tape.....come here tomorrow to see and hear all the details.
Read all of HuffPost's coverage from inside the Pellicano courtroom.