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Like many of his clients, Bertram Fields has become tabloid fodder: Magazines, TV and newspapers point out nearly every week that the Hollywood litigator is a key target in the ongoing probe of notorious private eye Anthony Pellicano. But it’s been nearly four years since an FBI raid of Pellicano’s office found evidence of illegal wiretaps, and almost three since Fields admitted he was a target of the investigation. At that time, partners at the firm then known as Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger & Kinsella were called into an emergency meeting where, a former lawyer at the firm said recently, they were told they would read that Fields was under investigation in the next day’s paper. Yet the frequent Pellicano client has remained beyond prosecutors’ grasp despite his long and well-publicized relationship with the detective. And the February indictment of Terry Christensen � another high-profile litigator � based on taped phone conversations with Pellicano has only underscored the major difficulty in pursuing Fields: So far, there’s no smoking gun. The Christensen charges, said former prosecutors, set a standard of sorts for the type of case to be brought against lawyers in connection with Pellicano. And it emphasized prosecutors’ apparent reluctance to bring circumstantial charges against a high-powered attorney � something that could turn them away from Fields altogether.
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“In order to make a case against a lawyer in this context, you have to have evidence that the lawyer knew about this conduct,” said Walter Brown, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and a former L.A. federal prosecutor. “In the case of Christensen, it seems that the government thinks they have that information,” he added. “For Fields, if they don’t have it, they don’t have a case.” Pellicano, of course, was indicted on illegal wiretapping charges earlier this year, and many of the counts stem from cases involving Fields and his clients. But the investigation of Pellicano’s computers has not yielded the type of evidence against Fields that it apparently did against Christensen, making the Christensen recordings look increasingly like a windfall. Since they turned up, lawyers familiar with the case said, no similar recordings of other lawyers have been found, and prosecutors recently admitted that they’ve been unable to decode many of the remaining computer files. GREEN, GREEN FIELDS An erudite litigator known for his aggressive tactics � and for authoring a book on Shakespeare � Fields has long been the lawyer of choice for celebrities with touchy legal issues. As he has grown older, Fields, 77, has stayed out front as a name partner, but not in the usual partnership arrangement. Fields gets paid hourly � he bills about 3,000 hours a year at a rate approaching $900, a former partner said. And Fields keeps it all. The firm profits from the work done by other lawyers in concert with Fields; one former partner said Fields’ practice has brought as much as $12 million annually in recent years. With so many lawyers working on Fields’ cases, prosecutors have spent years investigating the firm and various associates and partners who worked with Fields. And while they’ve found plenty of evidence pointing to the high-profile Pellicano, they’ve so far been unable to show that Fields had direct knowledge of any wrongdoing in cases he handled. Indeed, lawyers familiar with the case said one recording between Pellicano and a Greenberg lawyer has the detective saying he acquired certain information from “sources,” rather than from a wiretap � evidence that defense lawyers in the case may present as exculpatory. In recent weeks, a lawyer representing Greenberg Glusker has said that the firm will not be indicted anytime soon. And lawyers involved in the case say prosecutors have sent similar messages to other current and former Greenberg lawyers under investigation. “I don’t believe that anyone I represent or have represented is in harm’s way,” said Marc Harris, a partner at Beck, DeCorso, Daly, Kreindler & Harris in L.A. who represents two Greenberg lawyers in the investigation. He said his clients have been told that they are not targets of the probe. But the turn away from Greenberg Glusker comes despite prosecutors’ apparent belief that Pellicano frequently engaged in wiretapping on behalf of Fields’ clients. In the Pellicano indictment that came down earlier this year, the detective is accused of wiretapping or ordering up illegal background checks on several people in litigation against Fields’ clients. Those clients include producer Brad Grey and investment manager Adam Sender. And over the last month, the relationship between clients and Pellicano has raised questions about the case against Fields. In a discouraging sign for prosecutors hoping for evidence against the lawyer, news reports have said that Pellicano dealt directly with certain litigants. Most notably, the New York Times last month reported that Grey and Hollywood executive Michael Ovitz told the FBI that they had direct relations with Pellicano � a situation that could create a buffer between detective and lawyer. Interviews by prosecutors with former Pellicano employees have produced similarly frustrating results for prosecutors, said lawyers familiar with the case. CHRISTENSEN CAUGHT That’s not the case for Christensen, who, prosecutors say, found himself on the phone with Pellicano ordering up illegal wiretaps. The resulting charge surprised the L.A. rumor mill � Christensen’s name was rarely linked to the detective. Known as an aggressive litigator buoyed by a blue-chip client � the billionaire investor Kerk Kerkorian � Christensen didn’t have a reputation for the kind of intimidation tactics Pellicano was known for. But his legal team now has a daunting case to build. It turns out that in his apparent frustration with Kerkorian’s rat’s nest of a divorce � which featured a faked paternity test and well-publicized saliva and dental-floss thefts � Christensen talked on the phone with Pellicano about his services. Several people familiar with Pellicano say that was a mistake most frequent clients would never make � especially, said former Pellicano employee Paul Barresi, since the detective’s propensity to tape conversations was widely known. But court records show Christensen growing increasingly frustrated as he tried to step into the case on behalf of Kerkorian, who was also represented by Dennis Wasser � a divorce lawyer linked to Pellicano in several cases. After Lisa Kerkorian reported Christensen to the State Bar for calling her � rather than her lawyer � to work out a settlement, Pellicano called Christensen offering help. In his apparent frustration with a divorce that had been dragging on nastily for years, Christensen, prosecutors say, agreed to use Pellicano to wiretap Lisa. Lawyers familiar with the case say the taped phone calls make a case that’s hard to defend. Christensen could argue that he was acting out of necessity on behalf of the daughter at the center of the divorce, or that the communications are privileged work product. But those could be tough arguments to make, especially since there is an exception to the work product defense when the commission of a felony is involved. One of Christensen’s lawyers, Howrey’s Terree Bowers, said last week that his defense efforts have been stymied by slow discovery turnover. “We’re disappointed with the pace of discovery, and we’re afraid it’s incomplete,” he said. “We can’t defend our client without complete discovery, and they haven’t decoded the tapes.” As Bowers continues to work on his client’s defense, Fields’ lawyer, Keker & Van Nest partner John Keker, has been fending off a wave of press coverage that he finds frustrating. Keker wouldn’t comment on the case � or a recent Los Angeles Times piece on his client’s “rise and fall” � on Monday. But in an earlier conversation, he had plenty to say about a story in the current Vanity Fair that said Fields may be working out “a settlement” with prosecutors. “It’s stupid and false. You can quote me on that,” Keker said. “Stupid, false and kind of pathetic. Vanity Fair is not journalism, it’s garbage.”

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