Paris Hilton, her long blond hair tied back in a ponytail and oversized sunglasses shading her eyes, pulled up to L.A. traffic court near downtown Friday more than 15 minutes late for her probation violation hearing.
It was perhaps a moment when being prompt would have proved more fashionable.
Two hours later, Hilton departed with a 45-day jail sentence and a verbal comeuppance from the judge, who told her the time had come to take responsibility for her own actions. She has until June 5 to report to Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood to serve her time or risk a total of 90 days behind bars.
On the stand, the socialite blamed her handlers for her being caught behind the wheel twice while her driver’s license was suspended for a drunk-driving conviction.
Asked whether she had understood the terms of the drunk-driving plea that she agreed to Jan. 22, Hilton, 26, said: “I just sign what people tell me to sign.... I’m a very busy person.”
At one point, her attorney, Howard L. Weitzman -- calling his client someone with “unique issues and needs” who simply made a mistake -- tried to shoulder some of the fault Hilton was placing on others.
Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer saw it otherwise.
“She disregarded everything and continued to drive,” Sauer said.
And he made it clear that he wanted no special treatment for Hilton -- an heiress to the Hilton hotel fortune and a successful entrepreneur in her own right -- ordering her to spend her sentence in a county jail and not a privately run “glamour slammer” where other celebrities have done their time.
Hilton, who made the sign of the cross in the moments before the judge gave his verdict, sobbed afterward.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said in the moments after Sauer pronounced the sentence. “I did what they said.”
Until late last year, overcrowded jail facilities in the county had led Sheriff Lee Baca to release most inmates early, including immediately processing out anyone sentenced to less than 90 days in jail. That is no longer true, and Baca’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said Friday that his understanding of the judge’s order meant Hilton was likely to serve the full 45 days.
Speaking outside court, Weitzman expressed shock and disappointment at the judge’s decision, which he said “bordered on ludicrous.”
“It’s clear she was selectively prosecuted because of who she is,” Weitzman said. “Shame on the system and shame on the city attorney for bringing this case.”
City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo’s spokesman Nick Velasquez said Delgadillo’s office disagreed strongly, saying prosecuting Hilton for repeated violation of her probation “sends a clear message that in the city of Los Angeles, no one is above the law.”
Hilton pleaded no contest to driving under the influence after she was pulled over in Hollywood Sept. 7 by LAPD officers for speeding and making an illegal left turn.
After she failed a field sobriety test, her blood alcohol level was measured at 0.08, just over the legal limit.
Within hours of her arrest, she dismissed the incident as “nothing” to radio host Ryan Seacrest, explaining: “I was just really hungry, and I wanted to have an In-N-Out burger.”
As part of her plea, Hilton’s driving privileges were suspended from Nov. 30 to March 31.
A letter reiterating the suspension -- which was presented as evidence in court Friday -- had been sent to her Beverly Hills business office.
According to court testimony, however, Hilton soon disregarded the conditions. In December she was stopped in Hollywood by an LAPD officer for making an illegal turn and warned that her license was not valid.
Then in January, a CHP officer stopped Hilton in Culver City for having no license plates on the front or back of her car. After checking her status, the officer also cited her for driving on a suspended license, and Hilton called a friend to pick her up. She was given a written order then, again stating that her driving privileges had been suspended.
A month later, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy pulled her over in West Hollywood, where the officer found the CHP warning in her car. She was cited a second time for driving on a suspended license.
Trying to explain why she had made the same mistake repeatedly, Hilton told the judge that her publicist, Elliot Mintz, had explained that her sentence required her not to drive for the first 30 days and that she had used friends, personal assistants and hired drivers to get around during that period.
In the 90 days following, she said Mintz told her, she would be permitted to drive back and forth to work.
Hilton said that she never would have driven if she had known of the four-month suspension.
“I follow the law,” she said several times during testimony.
Prosecutors argued that even if Hilton was ignorant of the terms -- a claim they said was refuted by the evidence -- it was no defense.
“This is about the fault of Ms. Hilton,” Deputy City Atty. David A. Bozanich said. “She knew [she couldn’t drive], and she did it anyway.”
When Hilton left the Metropolitan Courthouse about 4:25 p.m., about 100 members of the media were waiting outside.
Her mother, Kathy Hilton, followed closely behind as reporters shouted, “Paris, how do you feel?” and others in the crowd cried out, “Paris, we love you!”
Hilton did not respond.
As she was hustled into the Cadillac, her flustered mother -- who had a 2005 reality show on NBC in which she ostensibly taught ordinary people to acquire the high society manners of a Hilton -- stopped to yell at the crowd.
“I don’t want to be asked about autographs!” she said. “What a waste of taxpayer money!”
At least some of those at the courthouse dealing with their own problems said they didn’t consider Hilton’s case frivolous.
“I think it’s very fair,” said Toni Marabou, 39, who was at the courthouse with her 16-year-old son to pay his traffic ticket.
“Even though you may be a high-end celebrity, it doesn’t mean you can live recklessly.
“If she was drinking and driving and killed someone, then would she get a slap on the wrist? It’s a lesson she has to learn.”
Times staff writers Francisco Vara-Orta and Richard Winton contributed to this report.