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‘West Wing’ Creator Arrested in Drug Case

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Aaron Sorkin, Emmy-winning creator of NBC’s White House drama “The West Wing,” was arrested Sunday at Burbank Airport on suspicion of possessing illicit mushrooms, authorities said.

Sorkin, 39, was heading for a Southwest flight to Las Vegas when he was detained at a security checkpoint about 3:15 p.m., airport spokesman Victor Gill said Monday. An X-ray camera had shown a suspicious object in a carry-on case, prompting a hand search and a call to police, Gill said.

Sorkin, who was traveling alone, “had a fainting spell after his initial encounter with police officers,” Gill said. “There were people there to attend to him.”

Inside the case, authorities found a small bag containing tightly wrapped paper bundles filled with what authorities believed were hallucinogenic mushrooms, he said.

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Sgt. Tom Davenport of the Burbank Airport Police said Sorkin was arrested on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance and booked at Burbank City Jail. He was released about three hours later on $10,000 bail.

Arraignment was scheduled for April 30 in Burbank Superior Court, authorities said.

Through his publicist, Sorkin issued a brief statement Monday: “I am glad to be surrounded by such a supportive group of people and am prepared to proceed as directed by my attorney and in the best interest of my family.”

Recognized as one of television’s premier writers and the winner of last year’s Emmy Award for best writing, Sorkin has acknowledged a freebase cocaine addiction that caused him to check into the Hazelden Institute in Minnesota for treatment in 1995.

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In a 1999 interview with The Times, Sorkin said, “I’m the same as any other addict. I’m only a phone call away from getting loaded again.”

A spokeswoman for Warner Bros. Television, which produces “The West Wing,” said the series is scheduled to complete production of its current season on Friday and that Sorkin was already on production hiatus, having written or co-written every episode of the program’s two-season run.

In February, Sorkin and “West Wing” cast members Martin Sheen and John Spencer were honored “for their commitment to fighting substance abuse” by the nonprofit rehab center Phoenix House at a dinner in Beverly Hills.

Sorkin and his wife, Julia, had their first child late last year, and at the time he spoke emotionally about how he almost didn’t live to see the birth of his daughter.

“There are people here tonight, friends of mine, who helped to make sure that I didn’t miss that, and I really thank them very much,” he said.

Two characters on “The West Wing,” including the White House chief of staff played by Spencer, are recovering alcoholics, and a recent episode questioned the viability of the United States’ current drug policies.

The series has been both a critical and commercial hit, averaging 17 million viewers a week this season, fifth among all prime-time dramatic series.

Warner Bros. and NBC put out a statement saying they “have the utmost respect for Aaron Sorkin and his family and fully support them during this difficult time.”

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Sorkin’s already scheduled production break could be extended if the Writers Guild of America is unable to come to terms in contract negotiations with producers that reopen this week. If a strike is averted, “The West Wing’s” writing staff probably would begin working on scripts in June, with production to resume in July.

Sorkin began his career as a playwright, winning the Outer Critics Circle award in 1989 before adapting his production of “A Few Good Men” into a movie starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. He subsequently wrote “The American President” and created the critically acclaimed but short-lived ABC television series “Sports Night.”

Buoyed by the success of “The West Wing,” Sorkin entered into a deal with Warner Bros. last year to develop other series, reported to be worth $15 million over several years.

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Times staff writer Mitchell Landsberg contributed to this story.


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