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In Mel Gibson Case, A.C.L.U. Fights Move to Bar Ex-Lover’s Lawyer
Published at 31 December 2010, 15:13 GMT
LOS ANGELES — Larry King’s long-running interview program on CNN may be gone. But it is not forgotten — at least, not in the courts here.

On Thursday, the Southern California affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union entered a complicated legal fray that involves one of Mr. King’s final broadcast interviews, with Mel Gibson’s ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, and a mostly closed-door attempt to bar one of her lawyers, Martin Garbus, from representing her in court here.

After 25 years of the program, Mr. King ended his run this month. Neither he nor CNN has been accused of any impropriety in connection with the Grigorieva interview.

In a letter brief filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s family law division, however, the civil liberties union said Mr. Gibson’s lawyers were stepping on the First Amendment by trying to shut out Mr. Garbus, partly because he joined her in appearing on the program.

Speaking by telephone on Thursday, Peter J. Eliasberg, the managing attorney for the A.C.L.U. affiliate, said the group acted not from any interest in the outcome of the dispute between Ms. Grigorieva and Mr. Gibson, but because the free speech issues raised in the case had become too substantial to ignore.

“This is about whether a lawyer can be stopped from representing a client who wants that lawyer, because of public statements,” Mr. Eliasberg said. “The A.C.L.U. believes, in principle, that only very limited restrictions can be placed on lawyers” based on their public speech, he added.

Whether media-related issues in the case now require a full-blown public hearing may be tested during a Monday morning session before the family law Judge Marjorie S. Steinberg, in a court that has been wrestling for much of the last year with the fallout from the badly broken Grigorieva-Gibson relationship.

An attentive news media corps has been shut out of the court battle in an effort to protect a young daughter, who was born to Mr. Gibson and Ms. Grigorieva before they split. But little about the fight has remained private, as Radaronline posted recordings of what seem to be obscene and threatening rants by Mr. Gibson, and followed with a succession of documents from the confidential court files.

Then came Mr. King, whose few-holds-barred interview with Ms. Grigorieva and Mr. Garbus was broadcast on Nov. 17. Among other things, Ms. Grigorieva said she had recorded Mr. Gibson’s obscene rants because she feared he might kill her.

Lawyers for Mr. Gibson, including the prominent family law lawyer Stephen A. Kolodny, quickly made the interview a centerpiece in their effort to block Mr. Garbus, a longtime trial lawyer who is based in New York, from representing Ms. Grigorieva, according to descriptions in the A.C.L.U.’s letter brief.

The letter said the Gibson team had objected, for instance, to a claim by Mr. Garbus on the King program that Mr. Gibson “doesn’t want to pay any support for the child.” But, the brief argues, nothing Mr. Garbus said “in one television appearance on the Larry King show will have any continuing effect” on the case.

Neither Mr. Kolodny nor Blair Berk, another member of Mr. Gibson’s legal team, responded to queries on Thursday. Mr. Garbus declined to comment.

The A.C.L.U. has past ties to Mr. Garbus, whose clients have included Nelson Mandela and Daniel Ellsberg, and who once served as an associate director of the civil liberties group.
MICHAEL CIEPLY news - Business
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