Suit links Ovitz to Pellicano case
The former Hollywood agent's attorney denies ex-reporter's allegation that he took part in a plan to threaten her.
By Andrew Blankstein and Greg Krikorian
Times Staff Writers
November 10, 2006
A former Los Angeles Times reporter has alleged in a civil lawsuit that onetime Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz participated with indicted private investigator Anthony Pellicano and others to intimidate and threaten her.
The former reporter, Anita M. Busch, originally filed a civil suit in 2004 that identified Pellicano, several of his associates and numerous unnamed defendants as responsible for an alleged campaign of "threats, intimidation, harassment and invasion of privacy for the purpose of deterring … and retaliating against [Busch] for investigating and writing articles about the entertainment business."
An amendment to the civil complaint, which was filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, states that one of those unnamed defendants — identified earlier as "Doe 4" — is Ovitz, a co-founder of one of Hollywood's best known talent agencies, Creative Artists Agency.
Other than naming Ovitz, Busch's filing details no alleged actions by Ovitz.
The suit says only that he was one of dozens of defendants who were involved in "directing, organizing, commanding, employing and/or hiring individuals to engage in the unlawful and tortious conduct."
Busch and her attorney, Ian Herzog, could not be reached for comment.
In a brief statement, Ovitz's attorney, James Ellis, said: "My client had nothing to do with this. It's unfortunate that Ms. Busch has chosen to involve him in this matter."
Ovitz previously has acknowledged that his outside law firm hired Pellicano to assist in the defense of three lawsuits filed in 2002 against Artist Management Group, a second talent agency established by Ovitz. Pellicano was paid $75,000 for that work.
After helping found Creative Artists Agency, Ovitz became president of Walt Disney Co. under then-Chief Executive Michael Eisner. But the two had a falling out, and the former talent agent was fired after 15 months.
In the late 1990s, Ovitz formed Artists Management Group, which aimed to revolutionize Hollywood by representing talent and producing a broad slate of TV and movie projects while distributing content in innovative ways. Ovitz no longer works as a talent agent.
Federal authorities would not comment on the latest development in the civil lawsuit.
One former assistant U.S. attorney who is not involved in the case said the decision by Busch and her attorney to name Ovitz could indicate that they had recently obtained new information as part of their lawsuit, either from federal prosecutors or other potential witnesses.
"Practically speaking, it means they are prepared to take him on and put the financial resources behind a lawsuit against a person with substantial means to defend himself," said the former federal prosecutor, who declined to be identified because of the continuing probe.
Ellis disagreed. "That's pretty rampant speculation, and I fundamentally disagree with its premise," he said. "I'm certainly unaware that my client's status in this case has changed at all over the past few years."
Ovitz's name first surfaced in connection with the Busch case in February, when attorneys for Busch subpoenaed him to provide a sworn deposition in the civil case.
Busch's suit, which was filed nearly two years before the indictment of Pellicano in February, accused the former private eye and others of tracking down and threatening the reporter over unspecified stories about the entertainment business.
It also accused former Los Angeles police Sgt. Mark Arneson of illegally accessing confidential police databases to give Pellicano confidential background information about her. Arneson also has been indicted and, like Pellicano and five others, is awaiting trial next year.
The indictment states that Arneson, at Pellicano's behest, unlawfully ran Busch's name through confidential law enforcement databases in the spring of 2002, when Busch and former New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub were reporting and writing stories for the New York Times about Ovitz.
The timing also coincided with a hard-hitting Vanity Fair piece about the Hollywood power broker that mentioned Busch, Weinraub and two Creative Artists Agency executives: Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane. They were former Ovitz proteges but had a high-profile split with him that was detailed in the magazine.
The federal indictment against Pellicano names the two reporters and the two CAA executives as victims of illegal background checks by the private eye and other defendants.
According to the indictment, Busch had her records illegally accessed on May 16, 2002, less than a month before she found a fish with a rose in its mouth and a note reading "Stop" on the windshield of her car.
Federal prosecutors have accused Pellicano, Arneson and Rayford Earl Turner, a former employee of SBC and Pacific Bell, of repeatedly violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by establishing a criminal "enterprise" that enhanced Pellicano's business.
The indictment describes Pellicano as the conspiracy's organizer and leader, and charges that the trio used wiretaps, protected computers, bribery, identity theft and obstruction to enhance the Hollywood private eye's reputation and ongoing relationship with "lucrative clients, including entertainment celebrities and executives, attorneys and law firms."
The intent of obtaining the potentially scandalous information, authorities say, was so that Pellicano's clients could scare off a lawsuit or gain the upper hand in litigation.
Nearly a dozen people — among them actors Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine — allegedly were the targets of wiretaps conducted by Pellicano and the others between August 2000 and November 2002, the federal indictment alleges.