Arts & Entertainment

Tabloid frenzy over Spears, Witherspoon divorce filings is keeping courthouse staff busy

DivorceJustice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeCelebritiesReese WitherspoonBritney SpearsScott Gordon

Los Angeles may not have a professional football team, but it does have celebrity divorce watching — and lately, that's becoming quite a rough sport.

So employees of Los Angeles civil court were reminded this week, when Britney Spears filed for divorce from her husband of two years, Kevin Federline.

A day later, Reese Witherspoon filed for divorce from Ryan Phillippe. The same day brought new filings in the Britney-Kevin saga: Kevin, or K-Fed, as he is known, was asking for custody of the two children he has with Britney.

As absolutely everyone with even the slightest clue is aware, K-Fed and the pop princess have been widely reported to have an "ironclad" prenuptial agreement. Could K-Fed, who is now dubbed Fed-Ex, be angling for a better negotiating position?

But at least Britney was apparently prepared.

Reese filing for divorce from Ryan one day after the filing of Britney's papers caused a minor sensation in Los Angeles County Superior Court. If she entered into her marriage seven years ago without a contingency plan, she and "Flags of Our Fathers" star Ryan may — gasp — have to split their millions 50-50.

But the real victims in all this may be the harassed filing clerks in the Los Angeles civil courthouse. They've been so overwhelmed of late by reporters from the tabloids that they've appealed to the court's public information office for help in making documents available — out of concern that otherwise, regular people will have trouble conducting their business.

"There are more and more Internet celebrity sites, so it's a constant demand and a much more constant pressure, which causes reporters to become ever more aggressive," said court spokesman Allan Parachini.

This is apparent, Parachini said, "by how often [the reporters] come in here, how desperate they are to get what they need, and, well, the degree of celebrity that is required to attain big story status is getting lower and lower. The proliferation of media attention creates much more demand for content."

But by any standards, the split between Britney and K-Fed is big. Huge. Maybe even as big as Brad and Jen and Angelina.

Britney filed for divorce Tuesday — incidentally, a few days after a Los Angeles judge ruled that she could not be defamed by published reports that she and Kevin had made a sex tape — reports that Britney and her lawyers denied. On Wednesday, Kevin responded by asking for custody of the couple's two children.

The tabloids went crazy. The entertainment news Web site TMZ.com posted a steady stream of court papers, and other media outlets eagerly followed suit.

By Thursday, it was hard to find anyone on the street who did not have an opinion on the divorce.

The media interest has reached such a fever pitch that at least one divorce lawyer has hired a press agent to say the lawyer would have no comment on behalf of the clients, who, naturally, also have no comment.

But behind the froth swirling around many celebrity divorces, lawyers say, there is big money.

"Forget about the celebrity aspect," said Norman Oberstein, who handled Johnny Carson's divorce, among others. "You take anyone that has a business that may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars … you're talking about a very sophisticated breakup of a business."

That's why so many celebrities — and other rich people — have prenuptial agreements.

"While the people themselves may not be sophisticated, the choices of divorce lawyers would indicate they have top notch prenups," said Chicago divorce lawyer Andrew Eichner.

Britney, for example, is represented by Laura Wasser, who has also represented Jessica Simpson and Angelina Jolie. Wasser did not return phone calls seeking comment. Kevin has retained Mark Kaplan, who, in turn, has retained a spokesman. Neither Kaplan nor his spokesman returned phone calls seeking comment.

By coincidence, the divorces of Britney and Reese have been assigned to the same man, Court Commissioner Scott Gordon, who may suddenly find himself the center of attention at cocktail parties.

Of course, many celebrities hire private judges to oversee their divorces, and even those who don't rarely show up at the courthouse.

One exception: Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. A court employee said they were spotted on a few occasions sitting under the fluorescent lights in the long halls of the courthouse waiting to go before a judge.

Photographs of such a tableau could have been worth thousands. But no one noticed them.


jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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