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Fortensky Proves Elusive in Court Date

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elizabeth Taylor’s latest husband sneaked into court through a private entrance Wednesday and disappeared again the same way, ducking the paparazzi who had come to feed on his drunk-driving case.

As celebrity court cases go, this one isn’t much: a couple of half-full cans of Coors beer on the floorboards of Larry Fortensky’s truck in 1987 and a Breathalyzer test showing a blood-alcohol level of 0.11, just over the legal limit then, according to the Highway Patrol.

And there wasn’t even a trial Wednesday, just a couple of legal arguments.

But who cares about such trifles? This is Taylor’s seventh or eighth husband (depending on whether Richard Burton is counted twice). That was enough to turn the court appearance into a contest between photographers, who were rushing all over trying to get a shot of him only to have him outwit them.

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His lawyer, Richard M. Moore, said the former construction worker from Stanton “wants his privacy” and is still unaccustomed to the crush of publicity that has surrounded him since his October nuptials to Taylor, whom he met while both were being treated for addictions at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.

“If you’ve been a celebrity all your life, you know how to deal with it,” Moore said. “This is new to him.”

Just as Fortensky’s case was called, he appeared in court through a side door, having been whisked down a hallway reserved for judges, clerks and bailiffs.

For a few frantic moments, a small mob clicked cameras as Fortensky, 39, took his seat. After that, he was careful to avert his face, frustrating a bank of photographers. As Moore argued for dismissal of the case, Fortensky sat wordlessly.

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Moore argued that the case should be thrown out because prosecutors took too long to bring it to trial. Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Erickson blamed the delay on Fortensky, who, she said, asked for many postponements and twice failed to appear, sparking arrest warrants. Municipal Judge Michael F. Flynn agreed. He set a trial date of Jan. 29.

Moore then took another tack, arguing that the results of the Breathalyzer test and Fortensky’s field sobriety test should be held inadmissible because California Highway Patrol officers lacked reasonable cause to pull him over on Oct. 26, 1987.

The CHP stopped his pickup truck at about 9:15 p.m. on rural Green River Drive off the Riverside Freeway, near a construction site where he was working. The CHP said it had received an anonymous call reporting that the truck appeared to be driven by a drunk driver.

The judge rejected that argument as well, saying the citizen’s call was enough to justify the traffic stop.

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If Fortensky should be convicted a second time of a drunk-driving offense, he would face up to one year in jail, a $1,200 fine and the loss of his license for one year. But since he stayed in jail for three days after his arrest, he would probably not have to serve any more time, Erickson said.

He would also have to complete an 18-month alcohol treatment program if he is convicted of drunk driving and having open containers of alcoholic beverages in the truck, she said.

Two months ago, Fortensky pleaded guilty in Orange County Municipal Court to another 1987 drunk-driving case. He agreed to pay a $200 fine and enroll in a six-month alcohol program.

If it hadn’t been for the media attention to the Taylor/Fortensky wedding, Moore said, the drunk-driving cases would have been forgotten because they had “slipped through the cracks.”

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Not so, said Erickson.

“We are treating Mr. Fortensky just like anyone else,” she said.


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