L.A. attorney will be tried separately from Pellicano

Times Staff Writer

Prominent Los Angeles entertainment attorney Terry N. Christensen will be tried separately from private investigator Anthony Pellicano and his other co-defendants, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, just days before Hollywood’s big wiretapping trial was set to begin.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer removes the only marquee name from the list of defendants in the long-awaited trial, which is slated to start Feb. 27 with jury selection.

“We are very pleased with the decision,” attorney Terree Bowers said outside the courtroom, standing next to a beaming Christensen. “We have said for a while that he should not be [prosecuted] with the other people, and we are grateful that the court has agreed.”


Prosecutors had no comment on the judge’s ruling, one of just a few to go against the government in the long-running case.

The Pellicano investigation, with its hints of celebrity secrets and skulduggery in executive suites, has long riveted Los Angeles’ legal and entertainment circles. Christensen, 67, was one of more than a dozen people charged in an FBI probe -- into the alleged bribery of law enforcement officers, high-tech eavesdropping, blackmail, witness intimidation and other bids to corrupt the judicial system -- that has centered on investigator-to-the-stars Pellicano, who is accused of wiretapping celebrities including Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine.

Christensen is charged with paying Pellicano $100,000 to wiretap the former wife of Christensen’s longtime client, Kirk Kerkorian, to gain a tactical edge in a bitter child-support case between the billionaire and his wife, Lisa Bonder Kerkorian. Christensen had long helped Kerkorian, one of the nation’s richest people, oversee a vast empire that includes the MGM Grand and Bellagio hotels and, until last year, the MGM studio.

According to the indictment, the wiretapping of Lisa Kerkorian began March 15, 2002, when an attorney called Pellicano and told him to contact Christensen about “going after” the wife’s attorney in the child-custody dispute. During snippets of alleged conversations included in the indictment, Pellicano alluded to eavesdropping on conversations between Lisa Kerkorian and her attorneys that could help Christensen with a court hearing. Pellicano also told Christensen to “be careful” about the information he was receiving from the private eye because “there is only one way for me to know this,” the indictment said. From the outset, however, Christensen insisted that he had never participated in wiretapping and turned to Pellicano only to investigate death threats and extortion attempts against Kirk Kerkorian and his young daughter.

His attorneys argued that even the indictment posited only a minor role for Christensen in Pellicano’s schemes, spanning three months -- from March to May 2002 -- and two of 111 indictment counts, one each of conspiracy and wiretapping.

In the last several months, as a mountain of government documents and tapes were shared with defense attorneys, Christensen’s lawyers said that trying him with the other defendants would prejudice his chances at acquittal.


“This is a big win for the Christensen defense,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who has closely followed the case.