July 29, 2014

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Former Gotti lawyer gone from Spector case

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The often-absent lead defense lawyer in Phil Spector’s murder trial announced Monday that he is leaving, and the music producer said outside court that he decided the attorney should depart.

Bruce Cutler’s announcement came at the outset of what was expected to be the last day of testimony. The judge in the case has said final arguments will begin Sept. 5.

Spector told reporters he decided that Cutler, who had been absent for several weeks while taping a syndicated TV show, “shouldn’t do the closing argument because it wouldn’t be in my best interest.”

Spector, 67, is charged with murdering actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra mansion on Feb. 3, 2003, a few hours after she went home with him from her job as a nightclub hostess.

The defense maintains Clarkson, 40, was depressed and shot herself in the mouth.

Spector said he felt that Cutler no longer had a connection with the jury because of his long absence and that Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler didn’t like Cutler.

“I thought he would be a target with the judge and prosecutors and that he wouldn’t be taken as seriously as he should. With his television show, he wasn’t here as much as he should have been,” Spector said.

Cutler has insisted in statements to the judge and the press that he would deliver the final remarks. He said he followed the case on TV and read transcripts while he was away starring as a judge on “Jury Duty.”

“I said that he shouldn’t do the closing argument and that it wouldn’t be in his best interest to stay on. He agreed,” Spector said in the hallway as he left the courtroom at midday.

In court, Cutler arose and addressed the judge.

“There’s a difference of opinion between Mr. Spector and me on strategy,” the attorney said.

“There’s nothing I can do for Mr. Spector,” he said. “I can no longer effectively represent him.”

Referring to the fact that he had not spoken in the courtroom since shortly after the trial began, he thanked the judge and said, “Hopefully, next time you see me you’re going to see me work rather than sit.”

Spector confirmed in court that he agreed with the decision and that attorney Roger Rosen, who has been at the helm of the defense effort, would take over as lead counsel.

The judge smiled but made no comment as Cutler turned, picked up his briefcase and left the courtroom. The proceeding was done outside the jury’s presence and they were not told about the development.

Cutler, perhaps best known for representing the late mob boss John Gotti in New York, had been sidelined since early in the trial when he delivered a bombastic opening statement that drew poor reviews in the legal community, and then cross-examined a key witness in a manner that drew a rebuke from the judge.

In late July, the judge warned Spector that he could face legal problems if Cutler gave the closing argument.

“Mr. Spector,” Fidler said then, “If you choose to have Mr. Cutler argue this case and if there is a conviction, you give up the right to come back at a later time and say my attorney wasn’t there.”

Spector responded at the time by saying he would have to discuss that with Cutler.

After Cutler’s departure, Rosen recalled to the stand two of Clarkson’s women friends.

Jennifer Hayes-Riedl and Elizabeth “Punkin Pie” Laughlin reiterated previous testimony that Clarkson was upset about being “dissed” by director Michael Bay at a party. Bay testified he never saw Clarkson there.

Laughlin acknowledged she sent out a Christmas letter 10 months after Clarkson died in which she said that the actress “was violently taken from me at the hand of Phil Spector.”

Asked to explain, she said, “I was being politically correct by not saying too much.”

The defense then began showing jurors a series of Clarkson’s e-mails which were recently extracted from the hard drive on her computer. They contained a litany of depression about her career, about turning 40, about trying to withdraw from pain pills after a serious injury and taking refuge in alcohol.

“I hurt myself of course, injured as usual by tequila,” she said in one message. In another she talked of getting “hammered” after she was stood up by a man.

She described a meeting with an entertainment executive who gave her a scalding critique, telling her to change her hair color, her comedy, her personality. The e-mail concluded, “I don’t feel ready to change the color of my hair, stop making people laugh and give up my dreams.”