Monday, August 27, 2007

Key defense lawyer quits Spector trial

The record producer says he decided against having Bruce Cutler spearhead the closing arguments because of the attorney's bruising courtroom style. Cutler
By Greg Krikorian
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

1:11 PM PDT, August 27, 2007

The high-profile lawyer brought in from New York to help defend Phil Spector against a murder charge abruptly quit the case today as it wound to a close, over a disagreement about him making the closing statement to the jury.

Bruce Cutler issued a statement saying in part, "I do not agree with the strategy which will be employed in presenting the defense in this case to the jury on summation. I can no longer effectively represent my client under those conditions."

The 4-month-old trial in the death of actress Lana Clarkson resumed after the announcement, which came on what was expected to be the final day of testimony.

At the luncheon recess, Spector said he decided against having Cutler spearhead the closing arguments because the lawyer's bruising courtroom style and time away from the case -- to work on a television show -- would hurt his connection with jurors.

"I didn't think it was in my best interest," the record producer said in his whisper of a voice. "I didn't think he had the full credibility with the jury" after missing time at trial and a jury visit to Spector's Alhambra mansion, where Clarkson died in February 2003.

"He was also a target with the judge," Spector said, apparently alluding to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler's warnings to Cutler about his bare-knuckle style.

Cutler acknowledged that he and his famous client had disagreed about strategies in the case.

"Phil wants to fight the case differently than the way I want to fight the case," he said, without elaborating.

Cutler was upbeat but admittedly disappointed, saying outside the courtroom that he was prepared to sum up the case that Spector was not guilty.

"I can't help him by not fighting," he said.

Fidler approved Cutler's move.

The judge has set final arguments for Sept. 5.

Spector's defense maintains that Clarkson killed herself.

Loquacious and flamboyant, Cutler has been one of New York City's best-known criminal defense lawyers for decades. A former deputy district attorney, he has most famously represented reputed organized crime figures, including the late Gambino family head John Gotti.

His punishing style of cross examination became such a trademark that it was said witnesses were "Bruceified" by his questioning.