By Stacy Jenel Smith
What do Rosie O'Donnell, Courtney Love
, Kobe Bryant
and Heidi Fleiss
all have in common? You guessed it -- they're all part of the 2003 celebrity courtroom parade. Yes, this year has brought us docket drama to the maximum, complete with tears, contrition, joking with the judge and, of course, shock value.\
At the beginning of the year, Lakers' superstar Kobe Bryant was the squeaky clean king of endorsement deals. As the year ends, he's a disgraced admitted adulterer facing rape charges and a potential sentence of four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if he is convicted. The June incident his accuser calls rape and Bryant calls consensual sex has already led to lurid, graphic testimony -- and signs indicate it will only get worse.
While the defense team asserts myriad claims against the accuser -- including that she tried twice to commit suicide to get attention from an ex boyfriend and took medication prescribed for schizophrenia -- the prosecution talks about blood on Bryant's shirt and the accuser's supposed sex-related injuries.
The case will mark Bryant for life even if he's found innocent.
In August, newscasts were filled with the spectacle of former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss crying on the witness stand as she testified that she was abused and terrorized by her former boyfriend, actor Tom Sizemore. In October, Sizemore was sentenced to six months in jail and three years probation for abusing Fleiss. And Heidi was fuming over former customer Charlie Sheen's appearance in court to buck up his buddy Sizemore. "Of course this is going to get me worked up," she said angrily. "Him patting the back of this guy and giving him a hug. Talk about politically incorrect!"
Spectacle is also the word that comes to mind in the December court appearance of Courtney Love -- smirking, clad in fuschia-colored ballet slippers, pink cargo capris, a pink short Chanel jacket and a black felt bucket hat. Love, whose 11-year-old daughter Frances Bean Cobain was temporarily removed from her custody and placed in the care of her paternal grandmother, faces two felony drug possession counts stemming from a police response to her Beverly Hills home in October -- the night that included her reportedly breaking windows at a neighbor's home and ended with her hospitalization for overdosing. Her hearing has been postponed until Jan. 27.
Former "Witchblade" star Yancy Butler was jailed in Palm Beach, County Florida after cars had to swerve to avoid hitting her as she wandered in and out of traffic in October. In November, a judge ordered her into rehab.
The slow-moving murder case against former "Baretta" star Robert Blake continued its grinding path toward a February, 2004 trial. This past February, ABC aired Barbara Walters' jailhouse interview with Blake -- in which he assured daughter Rosie how much he loved her -- just hours after Blake's preliminary hearing. The hearing utterly upstaged the interview. It included testimony by Blake's long-term security aide that the actor had wanted to hire a doctor and abort Bonnie's pregnancy. Or kill her. In November, a judge dismissed conspiracy charges against the actor in the May 2001 killing of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley -- while, weirdly, in an unrelated incident, an attorney was shot outside the Van Nuys, CA courthouse where Blake's case was being heard.
But the courtroom drama wasn't all heavy weight. This year also brought us a high-stakes catfight between a corporation and a star. Publishers Gruner + Jahr sued Rosie O'Donnell for $100 million, alleging breach of contract for walking away from her glossy monthly, "Rosie." O'Donnell countersued for $125 million, declaring that G+J had violated its contract with her by cutting her out of decisions. Their New York courtroom confrontation made for fascinating entertainment, with Rosie at first coming off her wry and witty best as she made a few respectful joshing comments in and outside court. But the entertainer earned the public's wrath after marketing executive and cancer survivor Cindy Spengler testified that O'Donnell had taunted her in a meeting, saying "You know what happens to people who lie. They get sick and they get cancer. If they keep lying, they get it again."
In the end, state Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman ruled that neither side was entitled to damages and that it appeared to him they were all in it for "bragging rights." Rosie then said she would sue G+J for $8 million in legal fees.
Winona Ryder was back in court in December, and was praised by a judge for abiding by the rules of her probation in her 2002 shoplifting conviction. She has made restitution payments of $6,355 to Saks fifth Avenue Beverly Hills and $1,000 to the court, completed 480 hours of community service at the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, and has been undergoing therapy. Ryder's attorney, Shepard Kopp, told reporters that the judge plans to review the 32-year-old actress' case and consider reducing her felony convictions to misdemeanors.
In December, too, Wynonna Judd was sentenced to 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty to drunken driving in Nashville in November.
As big as 2003 has been for celebrities in court, 2004 promises much, much more. The Blake trial will finally proceed. The Bryant case will move forward. So will the Phil Spector murder case and the R. Kelly porno cases. Glen Campbell's extreme DUI and assault case will be resolved. And next month, there's not only Love's delayed hearing, but (get ready) on January 9, Michael Jackson faces arraignment in the child molestation case pending against him.