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Top 9 of 2009: The Year in Court

From Anna Nicole’s hygiene to a porn king buries the hatchet

1. Anna Nicole Smith: RIP/TMI. Among the many unsavory details to emerge in a preliminary trial hearing involving three of Smith’s friends were those of the late model-actress’ personal hygiene while she was zoned out on prescription sedatives. Sometimes, according to a sworn statement read aloud, Smith would lie asleep in her bed for three days at a time – unfed, unhydrated and unwashed. During this time she would defecate and urinate uncontrollably on the mattress. Upon her dazed awakenings, she would sometimes vomit in bed.

2. Courtroom Chutzpah. During a hearing to extend a temporary restraining order barring two paparazzi  from pestering Nicole Richie, a Superior Court public information officer busted one of the pap’s women companions, alleging she was taking pictures in court with her iPhone. The accused young woman, dressed entirely in black, loudly disputed the allegation before a bailiff escorted her outside. Richie then recounted how one of the paps had rear-ended her SUV. Ms. iPhone was soon let back in, yet no sooner had she sat down than she was calling out to the judge, protesting the description of the car that hit Richie’s as “uninsured.” The woman declared: “That’s not true! I have insurance!” Apparently the pap was driving the woman’s car at the time of the accident.

3. Hatchet Burial. This spring marked the sudden end of the bitter, years-long feud between ex-porn king Jeff Stryker and next-door neighbor Pau l Kulak, proprietor of the folk club Kulak’s Woodshed. It was a war of words and alleged acts of vandalism that played out in civil court, neighborhood council meetings,

the city’s zoning department and at the adjoining storefronts in Valley Village’s 5200 block of Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Stryker (pictured) complained about nighttime noise emanating from the acoustic folk-music club run by Kulak; Kulak accused Stryker of intimidating club patrons who tried to enter the Woodshed.

4. Family Feud: Flynt vs. Flynt. The only story better than an old-fashioned American court fight among family members is one whose property claim is hardcore pornography. Hustler magazine tycoon Larry Flynt took his two nephews to the woodshed known as U.S. District Court and accused Dustin and Jimmy Flynt of trading in on their uncle’s name by marketing porn under the “Flynt” brand that was so inferior that it threatened to taint by association the old man’s five-star product. The nephews were in the Kafkaesque position of having to prove they weren’t cashing in on the name of Larry’s far-flung X-rated empire. Mr. Hustler won his trademark-infringement suit, although the boys will still be allowed to remain in the skin trade – as long as they add their Christian names to their DVDs.

5. Biggest Anticlimax: Phil Spector Sentence. Last April the Wall of Sound creator’s second trial ended with his conviction for killing sometime-actress Lana Clarkson. After all the time and drama acted out both in court and outside, Spector’s sentence, handed down the following month, was one of the biggest anticlimaxes in L.A.’s courts this year. The prosecutors, judge and defense attorney discussed its details as though they were talking about how long a car was going to spend in a repair shop. Judge Larry Paul Fidler explained to the court that his hands were pretty much tied by rigid guidelines for second-degree murder convictions and with that sentenced Spector, 69, to a term of 19 years to life. Spector remained stoically silent and was hustled out of the court, like Don Giovanni being dragged into the Underworld.

6. Hell Hath No Fury, Etc.: The Brides of Jacko. The death of pop superstar may have set L.A. back a few shekels around the time of his memorial and funeral, but that’s been more than made up for by the number of jobs created in Superior Court as a field of characters battle one another over custody of Jackson’s children and the interpretation of his will. Among the stranger spectacles are the petitionings of his two alleged wives. Billie Jean Jackson (pictured), a woman in her 60s with an impressive record of trespassing on the King of Pop’s Neverland Ranch, arrived in civil court in November to claim custody of 7-year-old Prince Michael Jackson II. Judge Mitchell Beckloff gently told her that without any proof she had ever married Jackson, he was going to have to dismiss her case.

In December, Nona Paris Lola Ankhesenaman, whose court filings demurely describe her as “the daughter of god, called Satan the Devil,” appeared in Beckloff’s court. Or rather, her voice did, via speakerphone from London. Nona was seeking spousal support but, like Billie Jean, she was short on evidence and sounded a little surprised that Beckloff would be so unchivalrous as to request a marriage license. “I don’t have a license,” her high-pitched voice rang out. “It’s a Saudi Arabian marriage. Where I come from a common-law marriage does not have licenses and things like that.” Two days later Beckloff dismissed her petition. Both Nona and Billie Jean have filed new petitions since Beckloff’s brush-offs.

7. J.Lo: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. Ojani Noa explained it this way to the NY Daily News’ Nancy Dillon: "She is destroying my life … [She’s] trying to stop me from moving on with my life." The way Noa was “moving on” was fairly unfamiliar to most divorced spouses: He was trying to incorporate 11 hours of home-video footage of the couple shot in the late 1990s as part of some planned film. Noa swore there were no sex scenes in the videos although, apparently, there are moments embarrassing to J.Lo, along with some scenes shot during the pair’s honeymoon, which almost lasted longer than the marriage.) "This is about having a closure,” Noa said with a straight face. “It’s my story." It was a story playing out in civil court, however, with Lopez’s lawyers trying to get a permanent injunction against Noa and film producer Ed Meyer.

8. Questionable Court Attire: Chris Brown. When the R&B singer arrived at a November hearing, he was told by a beaming Judge Patricia Schnegg that he was admirably progressing as a model citizen since pleading out to smacking around pop chanteuse Rihanna. Those who crowded into Dept. 123 in the Criminal Courts Building – including a high number of rubber-necking bailiffs – were given pause by Brown’s less than model ensemble: a suit jacket, vest and tie, along with three-inch cuffed blue jeans. At least he avoided the attorney cliché of wearing brown shoes with a black chalkstripe suit. 

9. Sports Talk: McCourt v. McCourt. During a week of hearing Tiger Woods scandal commentators make salacious double entendres of sports terms, it was refreshing to listen to a bunch of old lawyers inject sports metaphors to spice up the already over-salty divorce proceedings involving L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife, the team’s former CEO, Jamie McCourt.

“There has been game-playing in these proceedings and it’s not been baseball,” Jamie’s attorney Dennis Wasser said. “It’s been hide-and-seek or hide-the-ball.”

“Is he playing to the court or to the gallery?” shot back one of Frank’s lawyers, Sorrell Trope, before further observing of Wasser: “He’s not in the batter’s box — he’s in left field.”

“Mr. McCourt,” Wasser countered, “suffers from RAIDS — Recently Acquired Income Deficiency Syndrome.”


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