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Publicist Grubman Attending More Court Dates Than Club Dates

Aired September 5, 2001 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD HERSHENHORN, ATTORNEY FOR ADAM WACHT: He was standing there talking to somebody. He heard somebody say, oh, my God, turned around, and he got hit by her vehicle.

MARKLEM KENNEDY, CLUB MANAGER: It's a complete accident. There is no way that Miss Grubman, if I can speak on her behalf, would ever do anything intentional like that or who would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on "BURDEN OF PROOF": She's the publicist to superstars Britney Spears and Sean Puffy Combs, but now she may need to do a little spinning about herself. Lizzie Grubman plowed her father's Mercedes into a crowd of patrons at a ritzy Hamptons night spot. Now, her calendar is filled with court dates instead of club dates.

Hello, and welcome to "BURDEN OF PROOF."

Now, Lizzie Grubman is the girl who seemed to have everything. The daughter of a wealthy lawyer, she is one of New York's top publicists, representing young superstars. So what happened to this princess of public relations in the wee hours of July 7 that may change all of that?

Outside one of the Hampton's hottest night spots, Grubman is accused of plowing her father's Mercedes SUV into a crowd of club- goers, seriously injuring 16 people.

Now, several of these people say that Grubman, after being asked to move her car, called the bouncer white trash, and then threw her car into reverse, driving into a crowd of innocent club-goers, who claim she left the scene of the incident.

Grubman claims the entire thing was an accident. Well, now a grand jury is deciding whether to indict her. And in addition, there have been five civil suits filed against her and that's just so far.

So joining us to discuss the latest on this story from New York are: Howard Hershenhorn, attorney for victim Adam Wacht, and Michael Schlesinger, attorney for victim Harlan Goldberg; Also joining us from New York criminal defense attorney Joseph Tacopina and former New York state prosecutor Laura Brevitti. And from the "New York Post" reporter Dan Mangan. And here in Washington: Karen Dubeck, Tim Robeson, and Mandy Hansen.

I want to go you, Dan, and I'm going to ask you this question: Why is Lizzie Grubman the woman that apparently the "New York Post, at least, and many others, loves to hate?

DAN MANGAN, NEW YORK POST: I wouldn't say the "Post" loves to hate her but we love to cover her. I think it's a combination of the fact that she's in the publicity game; she ran down admittedly 16 people; she allegedly said "f-u, white trash" to the bouncer before she ran down him and the other people; she fled the scene of the accident admittedly. And you just have the combination of money, connections and everybody in the media elite in New York knows her, so I think that's -- and also, the race -- or the clash tensions in Hamptons (UNINTELLIGENT) can to it as well.

COSSACK: And Dan, I want to -- that's right, you brought up a point I wanted to get to: Is this a little class warfare that's going on here? I mean, does she represent a class of people?

I've got to interrupt for a second toss to Leon Harris in Atlanta.

Leon, please.

(NEWSBREAK)

COSSACK: Thanks, Leon.

Let's go back to Dan now.

Dan, what I was trying to ask you about was whether or not this case smacks of a little class warfare? The way it seems to be played out is that this is the daughter, perhaps the little arrogant daughter, of very rich, powerful man in New York who allegedly conducted herself in a particularly awful way. Not the first person who's ever going to and not the last person, but because she seems to come from a privileged background, the spin on it seems to be that she is this horribly spoiled woman. Is there a little class distinction going on here?

MANGAN: I think so because there's -- for years there's been tensions in the Hamptons between the arrives (ph), the people that are -- have money that are just summering there, you know, for a couple months a year and the people that stay there and work there year- around, who clean their hotels, who, you know, work on farms, who run the stores. And I think there's a lot of resentment -- there was a lot of simmering resentment and this just lit a match to that, and that's why -- one of the reasons why the case has exploded so much.

COSSACK: Well, what exactly -- we know that she drove her car and put her car in reverse, but there are allegations that she, you know, was swearing at people, there are allegations about drug use and alcohol use. Is there any proof of that?

MANGAN: Well, there's certainly a lot of proof that she swore or, you know, kind of cursed out people before the accident. A number of people have testified to that or said that. In terms of the drug use, she adamantly denied that -- or the alcohol use, but in a couple of suits that has been alleged, that she used drugs either before or right after the accident.

COSSACK: Did the police treat her differently, Dan, than they would have treated someone else?

MANGAN: That's been one of the criticisms. I don't know if that's a fact, but I think that, to the police's credit, they did as fast a job as they could in a very chaotic scene. You know, when they have 16 people lying around at this club, they didn't know who had done it. When they got to her hours later, they didn't know what she might have ingested in the meantime. That's one of the reasons they didn't do a blood test or an alcohol test.

COSSACK: Now, Lizzie left the scene -- she left the scene of the accident, didn't she?

MANGAN: She did.

COSSACK: Where did she go?

MANGAN: She was taken to the house of a former boyfriend, Andrew Sasson, who's one of the investors in Conscience Point Inn, which is where the accident took place, and which she represents as a publicist.

COSSACK: And who was with her when she left that accident?

MANGAN: That is not known. That hasn't been reported and I don't know. Sasson denies that he drove her himself, but he doesn't deny the fact that she went to his house, or that she was taken to his house...

COSSACK: Do you know who's testified before the grand jury so far?

MANGAN: There's been a couple of names out there. There's been people that work at the club. I believe bouncer Scott Conlon who is the man that she allegedly cursed at. I think Mr. Hershenhorn's client, Adam Wacht, has testified. Tara Reid, the "American Pie" actress who was hanging around with Lizzie that night. A bunch of people.

COSSACK: OK. Let's take a break. A grand jury continues to hear testimony in the criminal case against Lizzie Grubman, as the PR executive begins to fight back. Don't go away.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

A Judge in San Diego dismissed 292 tickets issued to drivers who were caught running red lights by red-light camera systems. The judge ruled that camera evidence was inadmissible because the per-ticket fee collection of the operation corporation violated state law.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: Lizzie Grubman is charged with assault, leaving the scene of an accident, and reckless endangerment for a July 7th incident she claims was an accident. A Suffolk County grand jury continues to hear testimony today.

Howard, are you in a particularly difficult spot because of the issue of a crime versus a civil action? What I'm saying is, you know, obviously perhaps you're looking for the insurance company somewhere along the line to be involved in this. If it's judged that she committed a crime and didn't act negligently, will that take the insurance company off of the hook?

HERSHENHORN: Roger, that's very good question, and the answer to it is very simply that whatever the facts are, they are. If in fact she is convicted of a crime that involves intent, then the insurance company can indeed decide to disclaim coverage. They can if they wanted to, they could continue to cover. That is decision that only the insurance company could make. But under the law, they can clearly disclaim coverage if indeed she's convicted of an intentional act.

COSSACK: Howard, doesn't that sort of put the lawyers, the plaintiff's lawyers in this case, between the proverbial rock and a hard spot? I mean, you know it'd be nice to have an insurance company to stand up and accept a little responsibility on behalf of the defendant in this case if it turns out that way. But if in fact the grand jury says, we think you committed a crime, and a jury convicts her, then it sort of mitigates against your possible success down the road.

HERSHENHORN: Well, let me say this to you, Roger. Clearly if there is no insurance coverage in the case, then we look to the assets of the individuals. I think in this case, Alan Grubman, the owner of the vehicle, and clearly his daughter who is this publicist that we've been talking about, with her own firm, and her own assets; those would be the assets then that we would have to look to. And quite frankly, based on the investigation that we've done, we feel comfortable that we will be able to get fair compensation for our clients, no matter what the result is by a jury later on.

COSSACK: Joe, this is a case in which the defendant in this case has been painted in the worst of all possible colors. It's difficult to find anything good about her in the newspapers, let alone find anybody to say good things.

How do you go about defending someone like this, both civilly and criminally?

JOSEPH TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, first of all, very different answers, Roger, depending on what form you are in. But, the criminal's lawyers job in a case like this would be one that despite all the negative personality traits that seem to be flowing about Miss Grubman, is to keep the eye on -- try and keep the eye on the ball of the potential fact finder, or juror, or even the D.A. And realize that to date, I have not seen any persuasive proof that she acted intentionally.

That's what the issue here is. Forget about her conduct, forget about whether she hung in this crowd and whether there's a class struggle going out there in the Hamptons, or whether or not she used some bad language. That certainly is not a crime, at least not the last time I checked. What we need here is to have her proven to acted with intent when she put that car in reverse, as opposed to an accident.

To date, I haven't heard one witness come forward and say this was her intent, or they saw her put the car in reverse and say, now they're going to get it. I mean, that's something that would, I think, put her criminal case jeopardy. Right now, you don't have that.

You have a situation where a young girl who, by the way, despite all her glamour and all her privileges in life, was going through perhaps one of the toughest times any human being can go through that week, she just found out her mother had terminal cancer, and apparently was distraught by all accounts. So, I think you bring that out too to sort of counter all this negative publicity regarding her personality and her lifestyle traits.

But you have to keep your eye on the ball here, and the ball is simply: What was the intent of Lizzie Grubman when that car backed up? If it was merely an accident, if she backed into that crowd by mistake, if the car went into reverse without the intent that she would need to have to put it there, I think you have a totally different situation. You can have a terrific civil case, but not much of a criminal case.

COSSACK: Let me talk to Laura for a second. Laura, listen, you're a former state prosecutor. What about -- how do you prove the intent that, you know Joe makes a pretty good argument here, that not all cars that do horrible things are done intentionally, and chances are you're not going to have anybody in there sitting, who comes in to testify Lizzie Grubman said, guess what, watch me get them.

How do you go about proving intent?

LAURA BREVETTI, FORMER NEW YORK STATE PROSECUTOR: Well, intent is proven in the law either by the words spoken by the individual, or the conduct or the actions taken by the individual. So, obviously the grand jury now is studying from every witness possible. Every word, every motion that was made by Lizzie Grubman that night. So, they're talking to witnesses and finding out what she said, or what they remembered, or now think she said. And looking at the actions.

You really have to take her back to the party, and find out what she did there, what she was drinking, how she was acting. No one really has brought up, how did she drive from the party to the Conscience Point Inn. What I mean by that is, was she driving erratically? Did that mean that perhaps she was under the influence, or was she driving with confidence, and therefore later on the fact that the car dropped down to reverse, it perhaps is not a mistake, maybe it was intentional if she had full power or control over her senses.

So, that's how you would prove it.

COSSACK: OK. Let's take a break. Five civil suits have been filed so far against Lizzie Grubman by victims of the July 7th incident. What legal woes has Grubman backed herself into? Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL/NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: Which former singer of a 50s revival band now teaches entertainment law at the University of Dayton?

A: Sha Na Na's Dennis Greene, who has a law degree from Yale and a master's degree from Harvard. Two other Sha Na Na alumni were also attorneys.

(END Q&A)

COSSACK: In the early hours of July 7th, Lizzie Grubman backed her father's Mercedes SUV into 16 people. So, not only is a grand jury deciding whether or not to indict her, but also she also faces five civil lawsuits that have been filed by the victims.

Michael, yesterday there was a filing on behalf of her father that said that one of the victims in the case, at least, assumed the risk of having an accident by just being there. What's that all about?

MICHAEL SCHLESINGER, ATTORNEY FOR HARLAN GOLDBERG: Well, we received an answer yesterday as well from her father, Mr. Grubman, and we also had that affirmative defense of assumption of risk and contributory negligence on the part of our client. I don't know what that's about. That, to me, is just careless that they would put that in an answer.

Obviously, our client was a victim. There was no way he assumed the risk of being hit by a car just because he was walking into a club. There was no way he was negligent by walking into the club. I think it was just an unfortunate situation where an insurance company puts out these boiler plate answers, and it was careless to do. And I think it was insensitive.

COSSACK: Michael, there's a conflict I suppose between someone who is facing a criminal charge as well as civil lawsuits, in that they have both the fifth amendment that they are entitled to, that is to not be forced to testify; but yet in a civil lawsuit they can be forced to testify.

In this case, it's expected that Lizzie Grubman won't testify, but hasn't the judges made a rather unusual order in regard to having her deposition taken?

SCHLESINGER: Well, I don't know what happened in other cases, but again, yesterday we received a motion to stay our civil action with respect to Miss Grubman, for the reason that she might make statements or be deposed, and they want to stay such an action. But I think in our case, we have nothing to worry about.

We're not claiming that she acted intentionally, we're claiming that she was careless. We could even go further and say, you know what, just admit it, and let's just proceed with damages. There's no reason to have her come in for a deposition if, as we all know, she already admitted it, she got on the TV and said, I apologize for all the victims that I hurt. So, there's no reason for even to depose her, she can just admit it.

COSSACK: Joe, is this a New York story? Suppose a change of venue is granted and gets this case out of the Hamptons and gets it some other place, upstate New York or someplace else where this kind of action that goes on in the Hamptons is unknown. Does Lizzie Grubman then win?

TACOPINA: Well, I think her chances are substantially increased in gaining an acquittal. I mean when you are out there in a crowd, with your potential jury pool having such stained views because you come from the other side, and there's a headline, blaring headline saying, You bleeping white trash. I mean that really endears you to that jury pool.

I mean they -- all they could do -- I mean they've already convicted her, they're just wondering when the trial starts. So, I think her only hope is to get out of the Hamptons, or the Long Island setting, by way of a change of venue.

But Roger, you know as well as I that change of venue come along as often as a lunar eclipse.

COSSACK: Yes, maybe less.

All right, we've got to go. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests. Thank you for watching.

Join us tomorrow for another addition of BURDEN OF PROOF, because we're going to see you then. Bye-bye.

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