Stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Santa Monica Superior Court to three felony charges of lewd acts with a girl under 14 and one felony count of child endangerment involving two other girls and two boys.
Court documents allege that Poundstone committed lewd acts against the under-aged girl on May 19, June 5 and June 6. The alleged child endangerment involving the other children occurred on June 6. She was arrested last week in Malibu by Santa Monica police.
Commissioner Roberta H. Kyman put in place two protective orders, one keeping Poundstone away from two minors in her care and another requiring her to be under supervision when in the presence of the three others. An added order requires Poundstone to be accompanied by an independent observer or guardian when in the presence of any minor.
"It is ripping her guts out. . . . In many ways she is a big kid," Poundstone's attorney, Steven Cron, said after the arraignment. "A lot of her lifelong activities have to do with the welfare of children" so these charges are "especially upsetting."
The arraignment, originally set for July 27, was moved up at the request of Poundstone and Cron.
"By moving up the arraignment, we will finally be able to learn the basis of the charges brought by the district attorney and begin the process of clearing [Poundstone's] name," Cron said in a prepared statement.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Gina Satriano said the court order prohibits her from talking about the case.
"The judge found in this case, based on the motion, that the children could be subject to irreparable harm should the information be released and that's the basis [for sealing it]," she said.
Satriano added that "the basis of it is to protect the alleged victims because [Poundstone] is a public figure. They'd get a lot of media attention."
USC constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky said he found the sealing order constitutionally dubious.
Referring to the prosecutor's quote about Poundstone's celebrity status, Chemerinsky said: "The fact that she is a celebrity should have no bearing on this at all. There is no case that has ever said that the rules for sealing documents and the 1st Amendment are different for a celebrity."
Chemerinsky noted that in October the California Judicial Council, at the urging of the California Supreme Court, made it more difficult to seal documents in the state's courts. Under the new rules adopted by the Judicial Council, all court records are presumed to be open to the public unless a judge expressly finds an "overriding interest" in keeping them secret.
The alleged victims are Poundstone's two foster children and three adopted children, who range in age from 2 to 12, according to a county children's services official. A court order has asked that the children's identities be withheld.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has taken the children from Poundstone's home and put them in foster homes, said Anita Bock, head of children's services. If convicted, the comedian could face up to 13 years and four months in state prison.
In the courtroom, neighbors, friends and colleagues sat behind the 41-year-old comedian. When asked about the support, Poundstone whispered, "It feels good."
Neighbor and good friend Genny Brosnan cheered on Poundstone outside the courthouse while holding a "We love you Paula" poster.
A date for a preliminary hearing is to be scheduled July 30.
Times staff writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this story.