Writers' sources sought in Pellicano case
A co-defendant accuses federal authorities of giving two reporters secret information.
By Chuck Philips
Times Staff Writer
January 22, 2007
Defense attorneys for a codefendant of indicted private investigator Anthony Pellicano have accused federal agents pursuing a wiretapping case against the pair of leaking confidential information.
In a motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, lawyers for entertainment attorney Terry Christensen call on the court to force New York Times reporters David Halbfinger and Allison Hope Weiner to reveal the names of their sources for a report published Jan. 11 in the newspaper.
The motion contends that the article slanted the evidence against Christensen, an entertainment lawyer who is accused of ordering an illegal wiretap of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's former wife.
At the time, the couple were embroiled in a contentious child-support battle, and Christensen hired Pellicano as his private investigator.
The motion said the article presented confidential recordings "out of context" with the intent to "pillory [Christensen] in public." Christensen's legal team accused the government of leaking material that their client could not rebut because he was bound by a gag order imposed by the court.
In the article, the New York Times printed excerpts of 33 recordings Pellicano made of his own conversations with Christensen — unbeknownst to the entertainment lawyer.
The story quotes from several of those conversations, which appear to indicate that Christensen and Kerkorian knew that the billionaire's ex-wife, Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, was being wiretapped by Pellicano.
The story also quotes Christensen as saying that Kerkorian would likely hire Pellicano again.
In the motion, Christensen's lawyer, Terree A. Bowers, says prosecutors have done nothing to prevent or ameliorate repeated breaches of the court's April 3 order not to release documents and audio recordings related to the case.
Three weeks after the court issued the gag order, the New York Times ran an article by Halbfinger and Weiner that cited selective portions of raw FBI interviews — classified reports that reflect the personal views of an interviewing agent, not verbatim quotes of what a witness actually said, the motion states.
Shortly after the article ran, the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego launched an investigation to determine the sources of the leaks.
The motion says that Christensen and his legal team immediately volunteered to participate in interviews with FBI agents and the San Diego prosecutor. (Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Ciaffa holds that job but is not named personally in the document.)
In addition, the motion says, Christensen's lawyers provided the U.S. attorney's office with "crucial witnesses and information" to aid FBI agents in their investigation.
One of those witnesses, an unnamed Los Angeles businessman, told Ciaffa and his investigators that the New York Times reporters had revealed to him that they obtained court-sealed documents from the government before they were released to the defendants as discovery materials in April, the motion says.
In the motion, Bowers appeared to express frustration with the pace of the investigation into the leaks.
"This [leak investigation] is going nowhere," Bowers wrote. "Approximately nine months have passed since the San Diego U.S. attorney's office initiated its investigation. There is no justification to delay the subpoenas of the two reporters."
On Sunday, the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego did not return calls; neither did the New York Times nor the FBI.