Celebrity watchers hoping to catch a glimpse of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, or Khloe Kardashian no longer need to stake out Hollywood’s most prominent nightclubs to get a sneak peek. Lately it seems as if the hottest waitlist in town is for a date with the county prosecutors.
While it may make great gossip-blog fodder, some believe that this steady stream of misbehaving celebrities is becoming a nuisance to the criminal justice system.
Don Josi, professor and chair of Criminal Justice at South University — Savannah, thinks that celebrity trials are a financial burden on the justice system.
“It’s an absolute waste of taxpayers’ money,” says Josi.
But not everyone believes that celebrities are a financial burden on the justice system.
Beverly Hills, Calif.-based attorney Ronald Richards says that celebrities often send a lawyer to represent them when they are charged with misdemeanors, which can expedite proceedings.
“In pro per defendants [defendants who act as their own legal counsel] are a much bigger burden because they are ignorant of procedure and slow the calendar down,” says Richards.
Although “lawyering up” can help keep costs down, public interest can be so high in celebrity cases that additional safety precautions may need to be taken on a day that a celebrity is scheduled to appear in court, which can increase public costs.
“They need extra bailiffs in the courtroom entrance, and police to keep the crowd from swarming the celebrity,” says Richards.
No one should be above the law.
Sandi Gibbons, a public information officer for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, says that fans frequently show up at the county’s courthouses to try to see celebrities.
“We are getting a lot of Michael Jackson fans in the case of the doctor [Conrad Murray] accused in his death,” Gibbons says.
These cases can also attract a large media presence. Gibbons says the number of anchors, reporters, and bloggers depends on the celebrity.
“In recent cases of Lindsay Lohan and others whose ‘celebrity’ is touted all over the internet, media presence is very, very, very heavy,” says Gibbons. “In murder trials involving Phil Spector and Robert Blake, there was not overwhelming media presence at the trial – only at the verdicts.”
“Other than filing the case, media presence has not been heavy at the hearings for Conrad Murray,” Gibbons continues.
She says the media presence has been about the same as with the Anna Nicole Smith trial.
“I expect first and last days of those trials will be heavy with little or no coverage of the actual proceedings,” says Gibbons. “It will depend on whether the judges handling the cases allow gavel-to-gavel television coverage of the trials.”
In addition to hiring extra security, courthouse staff members may also need to make necessary adjustments to their schedules.
Former Los Angeles County prosecutor Robin Sax says a judge will try to allow additional time in their schedule on a day that a celebrity is supposed to appear in their courtroom. This is necessary because criminal courts are open to the public, so extra time is needed due to the public and media spectators.
“Approximately 20% of the regular judge's court hearings will likely be rescheduled on a celebrity appearance date,” says Sax.
Sax added that due to extra scrutiny during celebrity hearings, additional clerks may be needed for taking court minutes, and that when a celebrity appears in court, more district attorney resources and staff time are used overall.
“A motorcade took Lindsay Lohan to jail, which was probably a necessary measure for security, but was also costly,” says Sax.
There can also be additional costs after a verdict has been made. When celebrities are sentenced to jail time, they are often given special privileges that are not available to ordinary inmates.
Josi does not condone celebrities receiving special treatment in jail, but believes that it is necessary to an extent. He says that a warden’s main concern is not having disturbances, including fights. Celebrities jailed with the rest of the prison population could cause an incident.
“If the celebrity or inmates get hurt, imagine the public outcry,” says Josi.
He also says those who flaunt celebrity status while in the criminal justice system can also send the message that celebrities are above the law, which can be harmful to the young fans that idolize them.
“No one should be above the law,” says Josi. “Lindsay Lohan has made a mockery of justice, and justice doesn’t allow you to make a mockery of the law.”
But according to Richards, Lohan did not receive a slap on the wrist this last time. "90 days in jail plus 90 days rehab for failure to complete a second-time DUI program" is harsh, he says.
While the verdict is still out on the actual impact that celebrities have on society when they are forced to “face the music,” some say their mistakes could teach the public valuable lessons.
“Something not widely discussed is the benefit that celebrity justice can bring,” says Sax. “For example, the public will become more educated on the justice system, and the trials can be used as deterrents for bad behaviors.”
Author: Laura Jerpi