Filmmaking, Novel Writing and Pretrial Publicity Redemption
In California, the question is whether a prosecutor’s consulting with the makers of a major motion picture “Alpha Dog” based on a criminal defendant’s story creates a conflict sufficient to require recusal.
In this case, Jesse James Hollywood (I can hardly believe that this is his real name) is facing the death penalty for the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy in 2000. Hollywood was a fugitive in Brazil while prosecutor Ronald Zonen was providing information to the director and screenwriter of “Alpha Dog.”
Hollywood was captured in 2005 before the movie release. His lawyers filed a motion to disqualify Zonen holding that the pretrial publicity prejudiced the case and that Zonen acted unethically. The appeals court agreed saying, “Prosecutors should try their cases in the courtrooms, not in the newspapers, television or the movies.”
In a Supreme Court of California opinion filed Monday, Judge Kathryn M. Werdegar reversed the appeals court ruling. The court cautioned Zonen stating that his actions were “highly inappropriate and disturbing” but did not meet the standard of review for recusal.
Dan Slater of The Wall Street Journal writes that matters such as this continue the “age-old debate over whether it’s proper for prosecutors to try their cases in the news media.”
Personally, I believe that as long as we abide by the guidelines set forth in the various rules of professional responsibility and attorneys conduct strategic and solid voir dire, then the public has a right to know. In this case, Hollywood was a fugitive. Telling his story in a movie is no different than telling it on “America’s Most Wanted.” In fact, the movie may have helped lead to his capture.
Adam Liptak of the New York Times writes about the Hollywood case and a second decision this week where Santa Barbara prosecutor Joyce Dudley published a novel with similarities to a rape case that she was trying. The appeals court also disqualified Dudley, but the decision of the same Supreme Court reversed that.
Liptak goes on to say that the film, “Alpha Dog,” “flattered neither Mr. Hollywood, depicted as a dimwitted nihilist called Johnny Truelove, nor the audience.” He says, “Manohla Dargis, writing in The New York Times, said the film had ‘much the same entertainment value you get from watching monkeys fling scat at one another in a zoo.’ Now, there’s an image.
Gina F. Rubel, Esq.
Furia Rubel Communications, Inc.
Gina F. Rubel, Media and Law