Former Hollywood journalist Anita Busch is pushing ahead with a lawsuit against Michael Ovitz and AT&T for damages stemming from the Anthony Pellicano wire-tapping scandal, TheWrap has learned.
In her complaint Busch accused the power broker and other defendants of “threats and assaults on (her) life,” stemming from a notorious incident in which a dead fish and a rose was left on her windshield with the note “Stop!”
The threat and the federal investigation that flowed from it riveted Hollywood and the rest of the country for the better part of a year until the private investigator behind it all, Anthony Pellicano, ended up in jail.
That lawsuit and numerous others were suspended by a judge during criminal proceedings, but the stay has been lifted over the course of several months, leading to the flurry of renewed legal action.
"The civil action is proceeding now," Eric George, an attorney for Ovitz, wrote to TheWrap. "Much of this litigation was kept on hold for a lengthy time, first while the criminal action was pending, and then while the civil proceedings continued to be reassigned to one judge after another."
Busch was briefly deposed earlier this month but left early due to illness, according to someone close to the case.
A multitude of other lawsuits, including by actor Keith Carradine and Hollywood lawyer Steven Kolodny, have also been revived, along with a class action suit against AT&T for wiretapping.
“They’ve been filed, we’ve been in court. But all of them were stayed while the criminal action was taking place,” said attorney Mark Geragos, who represents Carradine, Kolodny and the class.
Said Geragos: “We’re on track to do discovery, and to get a trial date. We believe we’ll win at trial and the damages will be substantial. ”
The law provides for a $5,000 penalty for every instance of wire-tapping, which in this case could add up to a hefty sum, apart from other damages being sought.
Geragos said that numerous other civil lawsuits had already been settled out of court, but declined to give details, citing confidentiality agreements.
In her complaint, the former journalist claims that threats and assaults orchestrated by the private investigator – famously including a dead fish on her windshield — “brought her illustrious career to a halt.” She is seeking unspecified damages for threats, having her computer hacked and, the complaint says, her life threatened.
The complaint (read it here) was filed in L.A. County Superior Court on Nov. 25, 2008. It identifies Ovitz as one of 100 John Does.
It lists familiar names from the trial: Mark Arneson, a 29-year LAPD veteran and Rayford Earl Turner, former employee of SBC Telecommunications (which bought AT&T).
The complaint outlines a series of incidents involving Busch, including menacing phone calls, a car that attempted to run over her, computer tampering, and the dead fish.
The class action lawsuit is against AT&T, while Kolodny is suing the law firm of Dennis Wasser. Keith Carradine is suing his ex-wife Sandra Will Carradine, who dated Pellicano and then allegedly wire-tapped her ex.
In December, 2008, a federal judge sentenced Pellicano to 15 years in prison and ordered him and two other defendants to forfeit a total of $2 million.
The disgraced private detective — once among Hollywood's favorites — was convicted of 78 crimes, including wiretapping, racketeering and wire fraud.
He had been accused of bribing police to run the names of celebrities including Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon through law enforcement databases, and of tapping others' telephones.
Officials began investigating the investigator after Busch, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, found a dead fish with a rose in its mouth — and a note reading, "Stop" — after she wrote articles about one of Pellicano's clients, industry power player Michael Ovitz.
At the trial, Pellicano clients including Ovitz, comedian Chris Rock and manager Brad Grey, who now is chairman of Paramount Pictures, testified that they did not know of Pellicano's illegal activities.
As for the alleged true target of the investigation, Hollywood uber-lawyer Bert Fields — who had hired Pellicano on his cases — nothing ever came of speculation that he would be charged.