Well, Tarita Virtue was still on the stand when court ended today at 2:00. Several of the defense attorneys still haven't had a chance to cross-examine Ms. Virtue, including her ex-boss, Anthony Pellicano. Given the excruciatingly slow pace of some of the testimony today, it appears that some of the better known, alleged victims of Mr. Pellicano's wiretapping won't be taking the stand until at least Friday, if not Monday.
Tarita Virtue, the ex-Pellicano employee and self-proclaimed key witness in the case, finished up her direct testimony today giving a packed courtroom a fairly detailed picture of how most of her duties for the detective consisted of listening to, summarizing and occasionally transcribing illegally wiretapped conversations. She testified about how it was her job to listen to the conversations on not only the Bo Zenga case, but also the Kissandra Cohen matter. According to Ms. Virtue, Ms. Cohen was suing Ed Masry (the attorney who teamed with Erin Brockovich) for sexual harassment and Masry hired Pellicano to dig up dirt on Cohen. Sounding less than remorseful about listening in on Ms. Cohen's extremely private phone calls, Ms. Virtue described Kissandra Cohen as a young legal prodigy who'd been hired by Mr. Masry, but who turned out to be a "lawsuit maniac" who found all kinds of ridiculous reasons to sue people--including The Olive Garden for food poisoning and Petco for injuring her dog.
Ms. Virtue, who looked a lot like a sexy, Sicilian widow today with her all black attire, olive complexion and jet black hair, remained fairly upbeat and cheerful through most of her direct testimony. She explained how Mr. Pellicano was often hired by clients to wiretap their adversaries, but specified that sometimes the order to hire Pellicano came from an attorney representing a client. In the Zenga matter, she said that she was unsure of how Mr. Pellicano had come to represent Brad Grey, but she knew that Brad Grey was the client and that they'd been hired to get dirt on Mr. Zenga. And from her demeanor, it seemed as if she felt that she was quite justified in going after Mr. Zenga.
She noted with pride that unlike many of the other employees, Pellicano came to trust her to listen to the wiretaps. She also mentioned that he really didn't have a choice but to trust someone, otherwise he would have been there 24/7 trying to listen to all of the wiretaps that were coming into the office. She actually recalled how during the period he was wiretapping Bo Zenga and friends, he was also wiretapping a producer named Aaron Russo on behalf of another client, Adam Sender. She also explained that while she knew what she was doing was illegal, she liked working for Mr. Pellicano because he was the best and she was learning a lot. She added on more than one occasion that she told the detective that she was worried about what would happen if the F.B.I. found out about the wiretapping. She testified that the detective told her that if the F.B.I. ever came around asking questions, she was to "say nothing and tell them you need to hire an attorney."
Unfortunately for Ms. Virtue, she forgot Mr. Pellicano's advice about "not saying anything" and the part about hiring an attorney when the F.B.I. finally did come to question her about the wiretaps. When the F.B.I. finally showed up at her house, she not only didn't call a lawyer, she invited them in for a chat. Apparently, she was so chatty that she ended up having to negotiate a "use immunity deal" with the government or face jail time for her role in the wiretapping conspiracy. The deal ended up requiring her to appear in court and testify truthfully. Ms. Virtue said that she had no choice but to testify in court and went out of her way to say that she wasn't there "to harm people I once worked with," although that's exactly what she was busy doing.
Ms. Virtue went after former Sgt. Mark Arneson, insisting that not only had she frequently seen him in the office, but that she'd also once seen him take cash from Mr. Pellicano--a detail that she'd not previously disclosed to the F.B.I. or the government despite at least 13 previous interviews with them. She also went after Kevin Kachikian, the computer expert who helped Pellicano develop Telesleuth. She said that Mr. Kachikian was frequently in the office, helping her work the bugs out of the Telesleuth hardware and that she believed he knew that the software was being used for wiretapping. And, she identified Abner Nicherie as one of two brothers who she'd claimed helped Mr. Pellicano translate some wiretapped conversations from Hebrew to English. (There was a moment where she had a little problem determining whether it was Abner Nicherie or his brother who was present in court....)
Chad Hummel, who represents former LAPD Sgt. Mark Arneson, was the first to cross examine Ms. Virtue. His questioning was all about how Ms. Virtue seemed to be enjoying her notoriety as an ex-Pellicano employee, by giving interviews and also by chatting about the case on her My Space blog. He asked her about an interview she'd done recently with the London Times and also about how she'd blogged about the interview on her My Space page. He also wondered about why she'd blogged about the witness list in the Pellicano case, noting that she'd written about how there were 244 names on the list and about how she had no idea how reporters got this information before the witnesses. (Damn those pesky reporters who always seem to be interested in finding out who's actually testifying in major criminal trials.)
Mr. Hummel then focused in on the portion of Ms. Virtue's blog where she wrote about her stint on jury duty and referred to the other jurors as a room full of morons. She also apparently referred to people who show up for jury duty as "dipshits," prompting Mr. Hummel to ask her if she felt the jury in the Pellicano case was also a bunch of "dipshits?" Not a great moment for the Pellicano jurors who are probably wondering at this point if they aren't maybe morons for ending up on a ten week trial. Ms. Virtue awkwardly explained that she was just annoyed with having to show up for jury duty and that she was seated next to a very stinky potential juror and, apparently, that colored her feelings about the other jurors and the experience as a whole. And, by the way, she didn't think this jury was a bunch of dipshits....well, maybe it's too early for her to tell at this point in the trial.
Next up, was the portion of the trial where everyone gets to look at nearly naked pictures of Ms. Virtue--giving everyone in the room a much needed break from the whole wiretapping conspiracy. The first picture was one that Mr. Hummel described as Ms. Virtue in "lingerie." She quickly corrected him, saying "no, that's just underwear." A distinction that seemed lost on many of the men (and probably a few of the women) in the room. When Mr. Hummel wanted to introduce some pictures of Ms. Tarita involved in some girl-on-girl semi-action, the judge put a stop to the whole sexy pictures portion of the trial.
When Mr. Hummel wondered if Ms. Virtue was happy to be named the sexiest P.I. in America by Maxim, she professed not to care either way. She explained that she was excited to be part of a spread in the magazine that showed pictures of intelligent, working women. Looking at her pictures, she smiled and said, "It feels good to look back and say I looked like that once--even though it's enhanced."
Mr. Hummel spent the rest of his cross-examination trying to imply to the jury that Ms. Virtue was a publicity seeking gal, who wanted to use this testimony as a jumping off point for an acting/modeling career. Ms. Virtue repeatedly denied that she had any desire for an acting career--but really never explained why her website contained her resume as well as contact information for either prospective employees or those seeking autographed pictures.
The last portion of the day was devoted to Mr. Braun, Kevin Kachikian's lawyer, trying to establish that Ms. Virtue knew nothing about what Kevin Kachikian actually did, nothing about Telesleuth and its marketing to law enforcement officials and nothing about his client's involvement in wiretapping.
Read all of Allison's reports from the courtroom here
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