Call it poetic justice. Howard K. Stern sucked up to Anna Nicole Smith and injected himself into her world, looking for a share of the spotlight. And the lawyer-turned-boyfriend allegedly did so by helping procure the drugs that she injected into herself, fatally, his scheduled arraignment today in Los Angeles turning that spotlight into the headlight of an oncoming train.
If you’re looking for publicity–actually, even if you’re not–there’s nothing like a high-profile Hollywood fatality to keep your name in the headlines.
California’s former governor/present attorney general/future gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown—the man best known outside the Golden State as “Governor Moonbeam,” for two spacey, Linda Ronstadt-dating terms in office during the disco era—recently called Stern the “principal enabler,” who conspired with Smith’s doctors to provide her with enough pills to drug a small country. Stern’s lawyer, Steven Sadow, in turn pointed the finger at Brown, and called him the “real enabler,” who’s using Smith’s fame to “further his own political agenda.”
I’ll get to that “enabler” label soon enough. I will say that Sadow is probably right about Brown’s political exploitation. It’s no secret that Brown is considering a run to reclaim his old job as California’s governor. And if you’re looking for publicity—actually, even if you’re not—there’s nothing like a high-profile Hollywood fatality to keep your name in the headlines. Brown can blather on all he wants about those evil “people in white smocks,” but he can’t tell me he didn’t have a chance to go after professional prescription abuse before this.
Of course, there would be no press conference if the victim was Angela Shortcake from San Bernadino. Nor would the investigation have gone on for two years with the cooperative efforts of multiple agencies—the California Attorney General’s office, the Medical Board of California, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the California Department of Insurance, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Angela just would have been another pretty, dead junkie, and her boyfriend/lawyer/whatever he was would have walked away from any procurement allegations.
More centrally, Brown’s hardly the most relevant spokesperson here—the Office of the Attorney General is not the agency taking this case to court. It almost never does. Trials are done by local district attorneys, and this one is no exception. My old crew, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, is prosecuting the case, which means the relevant honcho to get the 15 minutes here would be Steve Cooley—not Jerry Brown. Cooley must have lost the rock-paper-scissors on this one.
Of course, after the arraignment, Jerry Brown seems bound to get some company in the spotlight. Cases like this are career-makers for lawyers in private practice—just ask Mark Geragos, who rode infamous Whitewater witness Susan McDougal’s contempt charge into a string of high-profile cases: Winona Ryder’s shoplifting case, a brief stint in Michael Jackson’s child-molestation case, the Scott Peterson murder case, and now the Chris Brown domestic-violence charges. Famous clients beget more famous clients, and famous clients are usually paying clients. That’s why lawyers love them.
Not that it always works out so swimmingly—most lawyers don’t wind up with a roster like Geragos’, though not for lack of trying. A whole passel of defense lawyers stepped up to offer their services to oppose me in the O.J. Simpson case—rather than the “Trial of the Century,” it should have been called the “Lawyer’s Right to Work Act.” Every witness in town “lawyered up” for no particular reason other than the fact that the attorneys were willing to do it for free (read that: free publicity) and, as one Simpson witness told me, it seemed “kind of cool” to have a lawyer of their very own. Kind of like a Chia Pet.
So when Sadow called Brown an “enabler”—likely meaning that Brown benefitted from the case—he was partly right. It’s just that Brown’s not the only one who’s getting enabled here.
In all fairness, the lawyers are the least of it. Attorneys who represent celebrities are still, at the end of the day, doing legal work. If it happens that some jobs get them publicity and that publicity gets them more clients, that’s how you build a practice. So Brown profits politically, lawyers profit professionally—there’s no crime in either case, just ambition.
However, boyfriend Howard K. Stern and the doctors are a whole different story. Assuming the charges are true, the doctor and psychiatrist prescribed a steady stream of highly addictive drugs over a period of three years to an obviously unstable (is there such a thing as stable?) drug addict. And there’s no doubt that they knew very well what a mess she was. Hell, even I knew after watching two minutes of her short-lived television show that she was stoned out of her mind.
So why, if they did it, did they do it? Unlike lawyers, doctors can’t stand in front of a camera with their patients—they have a duty to keep their relationships confidential, and their communications private. It’s all legally privileged.
But that doesn’t mean word doesn’t go out on the celebrity grapevine that certain doctors can be counted on to dole out the candy. An entertainment lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed to me: “I had a client who always stocked up [on drugs] before he went out on tour. The day before they went on the road, he’d hit his doctor’s office.”
By enabling a drug-addled celebrity like Anna Nicole, doctors can build up a clientele of cash-and-carry patients who take up no more time than a scribble on a prescription pad. Unlike lawyers, this is not the way to build a practice. If the doctors in this case go down, it’ll hopefully send a message to doctors who profit off of their patients’ addictions.
And as for Stern, his lawyer’s getting down to business now. He’s done with Attorney General Jerry Brown. When I asked Sadow to elaborate on his comment about the once and hope-to-be future governor, he responded: “Nothing more on Brown; the fight now is in the courtroom.”
It sure is. And it’s likely to stay there. According to all reports, Stern has vowed to fight this case all the way. He insists he’s not just “not guilty,” he’s “innocent.” Stern may well believe it, but he’s spent too much time chasing the limelight not to raise the serious suspicion that he also wants a big, juicy public trial because it’s another shot at fame on the Anna Nicole Smith train. If so, he’ll certainly get some ink when the trial gets going. But if he’s convicted, that ink will soon be prison tats. And that’ll be the end of the line.
Marcia Clark, the former L.A. district attorney who prosecuted the O.J. Simpson murder case, has since served a regular legal television commentator. She has written a bestselling book, Without a Doubt, served as a columnist for Justice magazine and is finishing her debut crime novel.