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In a time of world uncertainty, religious unrest, decreasing oil production abroad and fewer botched elections at home, it is comforting to know that one thing will be stable in 2005: California already has enough bizarre criminal trials in inventory to keep every day bubbling over with juicy jurisprudential celebrity gossip. There may be layoffs ahead at US Airways Group Inc., but everyone’s safe at Court TV. I know some readers are incredulous and, in some ways, they have every right to be. After all, how could there possibly be a year to surpass 2004, which gave us the saga of Scott Peterson, the fertilizer salesman who killed his pregnant wife using cement overshoes while having an affair with a blonde massage therapist who recorded his New Year’s phone call from “the Eiffel Tower,” which apparently had been moved from Paris to Modesto? Or how about the mid-1990s vintage, which gave us the trials of O.J. Simpson and the preppy Menendez brothers, who blew away their parents with a preppy shotgun? Then there were the late 1980s and early 1990s, the years of the McMartin preschool trials, which gave California the record for the longest criminal trial ever, and the trial of those involved in the beating of Rodney King, with all of those videotapes. We also should not forget 1970 and 1971, the years of Charles Manson, a classic of the genre. And, if you want to go back that far, don’t forget 1926, when Aimee Semple McPherson, one of the greatest evangelists of her time, apparently faked her own kidnapping. It allegedly occurred while she was swimming in her stylish bathing suit at Venice Beach; she turned up fully clothed 32 days later after having walked across the desert for 13 hours to escape from her “kidnappers,” who called themselves “The Avengers.” (And it wasn’t Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel, either.) But even against this background, 2005 bodes fair to be a vintage of California crazy crime we’ll remember for a long time. Already concluded is the trial of Robert Blake, who was acquitted of murdering his wife, which he contends occurred while he was walking back to the Italian restaurant where they had just finished dinner to pick up his trusty revolver, which he had forgotten to take with him after they finished their meal. Also under way in bucolic Santa Barbara is People v. Michael Joe Jackson, in which “Jacko” is alleged to have molested a cancer-stricken boy after getting him drunk or something. I’ll bet you’re thinking that I’m going to move from these great moments in courts to a discussion of how this kind of thing happens because of something in the water, or because of the movie industry, or because things inevitably get a little weird along a major fault line, but I’m not. I know why this kind of thing happens, and it isn’t bad karma, bad mental care or anything like it. California gets the lion’s share of the weirdest cases because it has the California Secret Code of Celebrity Criminal Procedure. The code, or “SCCCP” as it is known among insiders, was enacted by the California Legislature to keep the criminal bar fully employed and the world’s eyes firmly and fully focused on the Golden State’s legal system. It provides incentives such as financial aid and subsidies so down-at-the-heels celebrities can hire counsel otherwise beyond their present means; the right to arbitrarily hire and fire counsel on a whim; changes of venue to counties where media-support facilities are better; trial schedules that keep too many cases from competing for media attention; at-will employment status for jurors; staff choreographers to assist qualifying defendants with their “perp walks”; and, most important for the little guy, it allows non-celebs to receive aid and subsidies if they commit star-quality bizarre crimes. Although you’ve seen what SCCCP has done to keep California at the forefront of celebrity criminality, you won’t find it in the statute books or on Westlaw or Lexis, because then other states could offer better incentives to lure the crazy-crime industry away from California. This would cut down on employment among members of the bar, not to mention decrease the number of legal reporters, gossip columnists, true-crime authors, camera crews, psychics, psychotics, consulting defense experts, testifying defense experts and ghost writers for “as told to” accounts of “my harrowing struggle to find out which species’ DNA most closely resembles Michael Jackson’s.” We’re talking billions here, and that’s before the TV sequels. So as you shake your head this year about a guy who happened to be headed back to a restaurant to retrieve his forgotten pistol while his wife was being murdered or about claims of abuse made against someone who lives with llamas on his ranch, remember that it takes real work to make quality crazy crimes happen. Be grateful that California has gone to such lengths to support this worthy cause, and don’t forget to watch E! Entertainment Television’s Jackson trial re-enactments. They’re boffo. Tom Alleman is a shareholder in the insurance and environmental practice groups at the Dallas office of Winstead Sechrest & Minick. His opinions should not in any way be viewed as those of the firm or its clients. This article originally appeared in Texas Lawyer, an affiliate of The Recorder.

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