The defense attorney played by John Travolta in the TV docudrama “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson” was in a San Francisco courtroom on Friday, outdoing himself in The People Vs. Chahal.
Robert Shapiro had this to say about tech start-up princeling Gurbaksh Chahal, who now faced six months of actual jail time after a domestic violence charge while on probation for an earlier attack. A surveillance camera recorded him with startling clarity pummeling and kicking his then girlfriend 117 times. The woman in the first attack had survived even though the video also shows Chahal smothering her with a pillow with such determination that it was deemed a deadly weapon.
“I don’t know anyone who has been punished more than he has in this case,” Shapiro actually said of his client to the court on Friday.
Shapiro asked that Chahal be spared jail altogether and placed under house arrest. Judge Tracie Brown did not fail to note that Chahal’s penthouse bedroom was the scene of the initial attack as well as a second incident in which Chahal is alleged to have repeatedly kicked a woman.
“It is ironic that you’re asking me to sentence him to the place where the crimes were committed,” Brown observed.
Not one to be shamed into silence, Shapiro suggested Chahal could instead be confined in mommy and daddy’s home. Chabal played the remorseful little boy, turning tearful as he pleaded with the judge for even more leniency than he had already wrangled.
“The truth is, I’m not a bad person,” Chahal said. “I desperately need my freedom… Please reconsider… I’m begging you to have mercy on me, your honor, please.”
Shapiro asked that his client at least be allowed time to make arrangements in his businesses and personal life, as if this were some victimless offense. The judge ordered Chahal be remanded immediately. The sobbing 36-year-old princeling of Silicon Valley who likes to call himself “the Indian Brad Pitt” was led off in handcuffs to begin a sentence that translated to six months behind bars.
Chahal originally faced 47 felony charges after the first attack, on August 5, 2013. San Francisco Police Officer Anh Nguyen testified at the preliminary hearing.
“[The victim] stated she was unable to breathe,” Nguyen reported. “She stated that he said, ‘I’m going to kill you’ four times. She stated she was in fear for her life.”
Chahal was looking at serious prison time, and that was not at all how it was supposed to go for a whiz who had been just 18 when he sold his first digital ad startup, ClickAgent, for $40 million. He sold a second digital ad startup, BlueLithium, for $300 million four years later. He had been declared “America’s Most Eligible Bachelor” by the TV show Extra! and deemed one of the planet’s “richest and fittest guys” by Men’s Health magazine.
And the future has seemed even brighter with the impending Initial Public Offering of his third digital ad start-up, RadiumOne. He now received an Initial Prison Offering from the district attorney that was measured in years.
The board of RadiumOne included Steve Westly, a tech mogul and a well-known figure in California politics. Court papers first cited by the Wall Street Journal indicate that Westly reached out to former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who suggested he might be able to reach out to San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon to “back him off.”
As reported by the Journal, Chahal wrote Westly in an email with the subject line “Willie Brown,” saying: “Just met him. Wants $1 million if he can make this go away. Just gave him a $250K retainer. If you meet him tomorrow. Apply some pressure on him to make this go away in 2013.”
Westly replied, “Wow. That’s pricey, but probably worth it if he can make it happen. I suspect he will pull out all the stops to get this done.”
But the scheming became unnecessary when Chahal’s previous lawyer, a retired brigadier general and former prosecutor named James Lassart, managed to get the damning video excluded; the police had seized it before securing a warrant, having been afraid a tech titan like Chahal could erase it in a flash.
Bad turned worse as the victim opted to cease cooperating with the prosecution. Testimony in a civil suit would suggest that Chahal paid her as much as $4 million.
The Initial Prison Offering was reduced to no time at all. Chahal got off with three years probation and a 52-week domestic violence course. Chahal was five months into the course and his probation when he allegedly kicked a woman hard and often enough that she sought medical attention.
He had learned at least one thing from the previous attack: “Same room, same bed, just no security camera that we know of,” noted Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium.
The authorities moved to revoke Chahal’s probation, but this second victim returned to her native South Korea and was unavailable as a hearing before Judge Brown neared. Chahal seemed about to skate again.
Then the prosecutors successfully argued that the videotape from the first case could be used to establish a prior act in the probation proceedings. And prosecutors in California probation cases need only offer a “preponderance of the evidence,” not the beyond-reasonable-doubt as in criminal trials.
Judge Brown revoked Chahal’s probation and sentenced him to a year. Chahal remained free on $250,000 bail as he appealed. He offered an argument that the Court of Appeals deemed “a convoluted picture of the relevant events.”
“What happened is quite straightforward,” the court added.
The court was particularly terse and dismissive when it came to Chahal’s argument for excluding the video.
“But so what?” the judges remarked.
The appeal was denied, and Chahal was back in court on Friday, this time with Shapiro of the O.J. fame. Who better to represent you when you are a notable who has committed violence against women? Who else would suggest that you, the perpetrator, is the one who has suffered most? Who else would even think of suggesting you be allowed remain at home and sleep in the very same bed where you battered both your known victims?
The People Vs, Chahal seemed a mock-u-drama as Chahal was led off, in tears even though he would be serving not a tenth of his Initial Prison Offering.
Maybe O.J. can convey some incarceration tips to the Indian Brad Pitt.