What’s next after Shandling shocker?

Times Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Rachel Abramowitz will be periodically checking in on the trial of Anthony Pellicano -- former private eye to the stars, who faces 110 counts of racketeering, wiretapping, conspiracy and other federal charges -- and writing about what the case means to Hollywood.


David Chase, have you checked your contracts?

Any big name talent who heard Garry Shandling’s testimony last week might feel an urge to rush to his lawyer’s office. For the Hollywood-obsessed, the bombshell was Shandling’s casually dropped assertion that during the 18 years he spent with his former manager Brad Grey -- who also represented “Soprano’s” creator Chase and is now the chairman of Paramount -- someone had forged his name on a number of his contracts.

Whew. Forgery? Are we hearing right?

Apparently so. Shandling contended that some of his contracts with Grey had “forged signatures. Some were signed by other representatives of Brillstein-Grey and some I did sign under what I would call the misrepresentation of Mr. Grey.”


Shandling’s statement brings back the specter of David Begelman, the onetime agent turned Columbia studio chief who was caught forging checks in the late ‘70s. It illuminates the vulnerability of talent; in a town run on handshakes, some movie stars and directors don’t bother to read the fine print of their contracts but simply trust their management to take care of them. But caveat emptor.

Five years after Pellicano’s initial arrest, Hollywood wasn’t expecting much from this trial. But two weeks into it, mogul blood has already begun to chum the water. Pellicano faces over 600 years of incarceration, but the Hollywood types who hired his services face the steady drip of embarrassment, about 10 weeks of testimony from their former victims. Already, Pellicano’s former gal Friday, Tarita Virtue, testified about listening to hundreds of screenwriter-producer Bo Zenga’s illegally wiretapped private phone calls. At the time, Zenga was in a suit with Grey over the film “Scary Movie.”

And despite his vow of omerta, Pellicano can’t seem to stop himself from humiliating his former clients by accident. Pellicano has been serving as his own bumbling defense attorney and accidentally elicited Shandling’s matter-of-fact decimation of Grey’s reputation. The gumshoe has already violated a defense lawyer’s cardinal rule: Never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.

The reasons for Shandling’s appearance on the stand date back to 1998 and his acrimonious $100-million lawsuit against Grey, whom he accused of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty in relationship to their hit series “The Larry Saunders Show.” In his suit, Shandling accused his onetime friend of triple-dipping, not only commissioning Shandling’s acting and writing paychecks, but also taking a $45,000-per-episode fee as an executive producer and 50% ownership of the show. Typically, a manager gets a producer fee or a commission, but not three different paychecks for the same job.

Grey fired back with a countersuit and, according to the government’s case, hired Pellicano in January 1999. Prosecutors allege that the private eye bribed a police sergeant to illegally search police databases for information about not only Shandling, but also his friend Kevin Nealon, his accountant and his onetime girlfriend Linda Doucett, who is scheduled to testify this week.

The 58-year-old Shandling, who’s never publicly discussed the suit, told the court how Grey grew irate when Shandling hired a lawyer to review his own financial affairs. “Mr. Grey called me late at night. He threatened me, if I kept going -- looking into my own business -- that he would make my life miserable. Which confused me, because he was my manager.” He added that Grey had refused to let him view his own contracts and that Pellicano ultimately lead a smear campaign against him. “It was a spiritual test to get through,” Shandling said.

On the eve of the Shandling trial, Grey settled and paid Shandling $10 million.

For his part, Grey has not been charged in the Pellicano matter and has maintained that he had no knowledge of the private eye’s allegedly crooked dealings. He’s also denied what Shandling said on the stand and opted to ignore his former client’s recent fusillade, issuing a bland statement that he was “extremely saddened by Garry’s recollection of events dating back more than a decade.” Although Shandling’s statement about forged contracts sounds inflammatory, as two entertainment lawyers pointed out, it’s unclear whether Grey (or his subordinates) had the authority to sign. As one noted, “it’s not necessarily fishy.”

Grey himself is slated to testify soon, but he doesn’t exactly have a record as a forthcoming witness. David Boies, the trial lawyer who represented Shandling, said Grey was recalcitrant when he was deposed in the civil suit. In his book, “Courting Justice,” Boies said that Grey had responded to questions with “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” about 300 times, and Boies added, “Ironically, among the details [Grey] claimed not to know was what it meant to be a fiduciary.”