Phil Spector Appeals Murder Conviction

Phil Spector's lawyers have filed their opening brief in the appeal of his murder conviction.

[T]hey focused on a judge's decision to allow testimony from five women who claimed Spector menaced them with firearms in the decades leading up to Lana Clarkson's shooting.

Those accounts, which portrayed Spector as a violent misogynist, became "the heart of the state's case, the sine qua non of its efforts to gain a conviction" and amounted to impermissible character testimony, the lawyers wrote.

For one thing, while the judge instructed the jury the testimony could not be taken as propensity to commit a crime, [More...]

Spector's lawyers argued that the judge undercut his admonition by allowing prosecutors to use the word "pattern" more than 40 times in their summations to describe the producer's conduct with women and guns.

"Asserting that a defendant has a 'pattern' of violent conduct is indistinguishable from arguing that he or she has a propensity or character trait for violence," wrote lawyers Dennis Riordan, Donald Horgan and Charles Sevilla.

Other grounds in the 148 page brief focused on the judge, Larry Paul Fidler. One allegation:

Fidler allowed prosecutors to show jurors a videotape of a hearing on which the judge interpreted the action of a forensic witness testifying about the position of blood spatter by resolving a conflict over where a blood spot was located, Spector's lawyers wrote.

"Under California law, a judge may not offer evidence in a trial over which he presides," said the appeal. Spector's lawyers say they could not cross-examine Fidler on what prosecutors say was the case's most crucial issue: Who pulled the gun's trigger.

The brief also argues prosecutorial misconduct:

The appeal also says prosecutors made "vituperative attacks on the integrity of defense counsel and the expert witnesses...passed over the line separating aggressive advocacy from prosecutorial misconduct." Prosecutors accused defense counsel of paying its expert witnesses to lie.

Deputy District attorney Alan Jackson made this statement in his final argument, the appeal says: "How does homicide become a suicide? Just write a big fat check ... Just go out and buy yourself a scientist. Spector defense attorney Doron Weinberg moved for a mistrial after this statement, saying the remarks were prejudicial, but the judge replied that it is "a fair inference that if you pay them enough they will say anything," the appeal said."

The AP has more details on the alleged errors.

Spector is in prison, serving 19 years to life, after the jury found him guilty of second degree murder over the death of Lana Clarkson, who died when a gun went off in her mouth. Spector insisted she killed herself.

Spector’s defense contended Clarkson died by her own hand. They said she was depressed over her flagging career and the accompanying financial worries, and may have committed suicide impulsively after hours of late-night drinking with Spector.

The jury found otherwise. Judge Fidler has also come into criticism for his role in the Roman Polanski case. Polanski's lawyers allege Fidler offered Polanski the opportunity for a hearing on the misconduct allelgations against Judge Ritteband, but only if he agreed to have the proceedings televised. The LA Superior court issued a statement denying it, but both Polanski's lawyer and the DA in Polanski's trial say in a sworn declaration:

In 1997, Douglas Dalton, attorney for Roman Polanski, and Roger Gunson, prosecutor on the Polanski case, met with Judge Larry Paul Fidler in his chambers to discuss the Polanski case. Mr. Gunson and Mr. Dalton advised Judge Fidler of Judge Rittenband's conduct in handling the case that is accurately captured in the documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

At the meeting, Judge Fidler advised Mr. Dalton that if Mr. Polanski returned to Los Angeles, that he, Judge Fidler, would allow Mr. Polanski to be booked and immediately released on bail, require Mr. Polanski to meet with the probation department, order a probation report, conduct a hearing, and terminate probation without Mr. Polanski having to serve any additional time in custody. That there was a deal worked out between Judge Fidler and Mr. Dalton was reported in the New York Daily News as early as October 1, 1997.

One of the issues raised by Mr. Dalton during the meeting was the question of media coverage. All understood that any proceedings would be open to the public as required by law. During the meeting, Mr. Dalton pressed Judge Fidler for a resolution of the case that would allow for minimal news media. Mr. Dalton recalled that Judge Fidler would require television coverage at the proposed hearing due to the controversy. Mr. Gunson recalls television coverage discussed at the meeting. Mr. Dalton told documentary director Marina Zenovich of this requirement.

It is our shared view that Monday's false and reprehensible statement by the Los Angeles Superior Court continues their inappropriate handling of the Polanski case.

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    guilty as sin (1.00 / 1) (#4)
    by jedimom on Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 08:48:51 PM EST
    Phil really needs to go away, he has been out of control and pulling guns on women for 30 yrs now and it is clear in Cali any celeb can get any RX in any amount...

    God Bless Lana Clarkson and her family

    You ever notice how few defense blogs there are? (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by 1980Ford on Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 10:13:36 PM EST
    There are a zillion "police are perfect" TV shows and blogs, but few from the defense point of view, which means from the constitutional point of view. If the government cheated and the abuse, yes, abuse, was prejudicial, Spector should get a new trial. If you don't like it, join the Taliban because you "hate us for our freedoms."

    They've had a couple (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 01:59:01 PM EST
    TV shows in the last few years about criminal defense practices - off the top of my head I recall watching a show on FOX called "Justice".  It was pretty good (although, like most legal shows had tons of stuff on there that doesn't happen in real life).

    Not sure what you mean by "the constitutional view" since the adversarial system we operate under (you know, by the constitution) require both defense attorneys and the prosecution.

    Maybe most people don't like watching TV shows where bad people get off all the time?  It wouldn't be very interesting or be drama-filled if a show was from the defense point of view and their clients always went to jail, nor would it be believable that a defense attorney would always have innocent clients, right?


    Character evidence against Judge Fidler? (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 11:09:37 AM EST
    Anyhow, Charles Sevilla is an excellent criminal defense appellate specialist.  Good choice by Spector's team.

    agree (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 11:47:10 AM EST
    Riordan and Sevilla are terrific lawyers.

    California Evidence Code section (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Sat Mar 13, 2010 at 11:19:35 AM EST
    1101:  link

    Phil Spector Appeal (none / 0) (#7)
    by Boomer on Wed Mar 17, 2010 at 05:27:07 PM EST
    I am a Californian lawyer since 1978, initially dismissed the Spector I trial dream team as a carnival trying to sell a preposterous defense, then became engaged by the retrial when I learned that the alleged victim was at the self professed end of her rope and had in fact threatened to end it all, not only in writing but on multiple occasions shortly before she died of an inter-oral gunshot wound in Phil Sector's Alhambra, California foyer.

    I note that Spector's appellate lead appellant counsel is perhaps the most credible and skilled among his California colleagues, and that he was kind enough to send me a copy of the brief that I subsequently posted here http://www.scribd.com/doc/28176613/People-vs-Phil-Spector-Appellant-s-Opening-Brief.  

    I write to simply note that the three very limited and focused issues set forth in this very through brief are as compelling a case as I have seen for reversal of a criminal conviction since I have been proud to call myself a lawyer.

    Certainly, if we stand for anything as a society, it is the principle that we require the issue of guilt or innocence to be determined following a FAIR trial (and not a SHOW trial--as is the case in, say Iran or China).

    This principle is easy to lose sight of if the defendant is unattractive, freakish, eccentric, misogynistic, prone to drunkenness, or has other attributes (or a reputation for those attributes) that are politically incorrect.

    But if the Rule of Law on which the United States was founded is to have any meaning whatsoever, then all of our citizens must enjoy the right to a fair and impartial trial--a right that this case that was not afforded.  

    I would urge your readers to review the linked brief and then make up their own minds.

    Thank you (none / 0) (#8)
    by hellobeatle on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 09:00:27 PM EST
    Just wanted to thank you for posting the brief.  It was well-written.  Not just the legal theory but the entire flow and use of CREAC.  I have used it as a template for a legal writing assignment.

    I followed both trials quite closely and the second one concluded during my first year in law school.  I believe Fidler made several obvious errors and this brief addresses them and skips over any small questionable errors.  It will be interesting to see how the State addresses these issues in their response.