The trial of music legend Phil Spector for murder has gone to the jury. It is a case that has had all of the markings of California’s unique cottage industry of sensational celebrity trials. With riveting accounts of the towering excesses and insatiable appetites of the celebrity class, the Spector class fit neatly in a genre that extended from Fatty Arbuckle to Errol Flynn to Charlie Chaplin to Robert Blake. Yet, Spector’s trial had one difference. While celebrity justice is often raised in the public press, the prosecutors made it an actual part of their arguments to the jury.
Ironically, with the question of the murder of Lana Clarkson going to the jury on Monday, the government would be fortunate if the jury adopt the past celebrity standard. The fact is that, if there is such a thing as celebrity justice, it often works against celebrities who are more likely to be prosecuted for minor offenses and receive worse plea agreements as did Paris Hilton. Yet, it is a common belief among citizens that celebrities are given special treatment and even immunity in criminal cases. The acquittals of Errol Flynn for statutory rape and the murder trials of Arbuckle, O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake for murder fueled this view. In reality, all of these verdicts were the result of manifestly weak cases (Arbuckle), credibility attacks on the victims (Flynn and Blake), or unspeakably bad prosecution teams (Simpson).
Nevertheless, the Spector prosecution team put the spectre of celebrity justice front and center in its closing argument to the jury last week. Prosecutor Alan Jackson told the jury that they should not be swayed by Spector’s experts because “[i]f you hire enough lawyers who hire enough experts who are paid enough money, you can get them to say anything.” He went on to inform the jury that “Phil Spector thinks if he throws enough money at a problem, he can solve the problem.”
it is a highly improper argument in my view that encourages the jury to ignore defense experts due to the wealth of the defendant. It is the subject of Tuesday’s column in the Los Angeles Times.