One remark at the hearing of convicted rapist Andrew Luster seemed
to sum up the case against Luster, a high-profile case that drew national
"Geraldo Rivera was running
around, and it created a lot of buzz," former prosecutor Bill Haney said last
week in response to a question about the media.
The District Attorney's Office, headed by then chief prosecutor
Michael Bradbury, tabbed high-profile cases like Andrew Luster as "Special
Interest" cases that required special handing by prosecutors because they
attract an army of reporters, according to court testimony last week at Luster's
These "Special Interest" cases were monitored by Bradbury, and his
policy was to approve any plea agreements, no exceptions, according to court testimony.
In this case, the heir of the Max Factor cosmetics fortune was
accused using GHB and drugging and raping three women at his Mussel Shoals
beach house in North Ventura County. Luster video recorded the rapes of two of
One woman was snoring in a recording after being given the
date-rape drug, and Luster labeled one of the rape recordings, "Shauna GHBing,"
the evidence showed.
A Prosecutor Pointed to What
Others Say Was The Obvious
Prosecutor Anthony Wold testified that the recorded rapes were "painfully
sadistic acts" by a man who defense witnesses said had the brain of a child inside
a grown man's cranium.
The media flocked to the Hall of Justice after Luster's arrest,
and this, seemed to set the tone after Luster's arrest, and the coverage
increased after his subsequent flight in the middle of his trial to Puerta
There, Luster surfed, drank high-end Tequila and fished while
being holed up in a Mexican Motel.
Luster's Second Set of
Lawyers Want His Sentence Reduced.
Luster's lawyers, Jay Leiderman and David Nick, who successfully
filed a writ habeas corpus, citing ineffective assistance of counsel in the
rape trial and other legal issues are asking for Luster's 124-year sentence to be
reduced and his conviction set aside.
An appeals court agreed to the pleadings in the writ in 2012 and
allowed a hearing.
The lawyers are also argued in court this week that this case
quickly turned into a "media circus" but Luster's first batch of hired legal
guns hadn't bothered to submit legal papers requesting a change of venue to try and have the
high-publicity case moved to another county.
Wold testified that Luster's former lawyers at his rape trial basically
maintained at his court proceedings two things: That the victims were
pretending to be asleep or had consented to be violated while they were
Wold and Luster's defense team, especially Attorney Richard
Sherman, had an acrimonious relationship in court, according to court
Wold said he didn't trust Sherman who, he said, twisted and
distorted his conversations with him, noting that Luster and his investigator
Bill Pavelic appeared to be running the show and telling lawyers during court
proceedings what questions to ask.
Sherman was aggressive in court and file frivolous legal motions
and get countless trial delays.
The defense including investigator Bill Pavelic alleged
prosecution misconduct and accused the district attorney of hiding evidence,
including DNA evidence from one of the rape victims who allegedly had sex with
three other men just prior to being raped by Luster.
This rape wasn't video recorded, and Pavelic called this victim a
"pathetic liar" during his testimony last week. He told the judge that Luster's
"celebrity status" made him an easy target for the district attorney and law
Prosecutor Michelle Contois said in court Luster always maintained
his innocence and never wanted to plea guilty. He rolled the dice and lost and
now, Luster is unhappy, according to Contois.
Still, critics, including criminal attorneys, said with the mountain of evidence against
Luster was to great and that the trial could have been moved to a goat-herding
country in the Middle East and the results would have been the same once
prosecutors pressed the play button on the video recorder.
But what lead to a sentence where the judge probably used a pocket
calculator to figure out the number of years on each of the 86-counts Luster
was convicted on and arriving at a 124-year sentence?
It might have been the continuous and bitter courtroom clashes
between Luster's legal dream team and the iron-fisted District Attorney's
Michael Bradbury's prosecutors who had their marching orders.
All this was also coupled with the fact that many reporters were
chasing a story about a millionaire surfer accused video recording the two of
the three rapes of women and joked about it like a high school prankster while
recording the women.
The Andrew Luster "Media
Circus" and Former DA Michael Bradbury's Office
It was no secret.
Former District Attorney Michael Bradbury protected his office's projected
public and political image as a California's toughest prosecutors with
evangelistic zeal, according to his critics.
Bradbury didn't want that image soiled or smudged and frowned at
prosecutors who he perceived had "embarrassed" the office or not followed his
rules, say critics.
Bradbury often didn't fire wayward lawyers who fudged or didn't
follow his rigid policies, according to Adam Pearlman, a former prosecutor who
testified at Luster's trial. They were banished like him to the basement of
shame - the Child Support Unit - where prosecutorial careers go to die,
according to Pearlman and other former prosecutors.
Pearlman testified that he was the first prosecutor who handled
the Luster case. There were at least three others.
Bradbury's critics said Bradbury was a "hands on" prosecutor who
had to sign off on any plea bargain deals involving very serious felonies,
especially "special interest" cases.
There is no doubt that Bradbury whose office was on the third
floor wasn't aware that Geraldo, a crew from 48 Hours and many other reporters
were also roaming the halls asking dozens of questions, sizing up different
Bradbury retired in 2003 and his second in command, Greg Totten, who was elected as district
attorney, stepped into his shoes.
Andrew Luster's Arrogance
and His Small Army of Hired Legal Guns
Some media photos and TV video show a well-groomed and confident
Luster with his defense team walking down the hallway at the Hall of Justice.
Luster appears to have a smug smile on his face.
His small army of defense attorneys included James Blatt, Joel
Isaacson, Richard Sherman, Roger Diamond, two investigations, including Pavelic.. In addition, there was a DNA
attorney whose specialty and sole purpose was to tackle issues involving DNA
issues in this case.
There were brief discussions by Luster's trial lawyers on whether
to hire a "fetish film expert," according to court testimony.
Many Times Luster's
Personality Got in the Way of His Defense
Last week. Luster's friend Darryl Genis apologized to Luster
before telling the judge that Luster was "childlike" and described him as
someone who wasn't concerned about money, was well traveled and surfed in
"His childlike nature lead down a number of different paths," said
Luster was a confused man
that could be easily manipulated and was getting conflicting legal advice,
Others testified that his need for a father-figure lead him to
hire a 70-year-old Attorney named Richard Sherman who drained his bank account
and a week before Luster's rape trial disappeared, never to show up in court
Luster's father died when he was 9-years-old.
Luster was left with Attorney Roger Diamond whose role from
questioning a few witnesses was now relegated to being the lead lawyer in the
rape trial, court testimony indicated.
Sherman surfaced again in the middle of the rape trial and contacted
Luster told him about a plan he hatched to help him flee to Mexico, saying that
Luster's life was in danger.
An Offer to Serve Eight to
12 Years Behind Bars In Exchange for a Guilty Plea to Rape
Defense lawyer James Blatt testified that the DA then prosecutor
John Blair offered a plea bargain of eight to 12 year sentence in exchange for a
guilty plea. But Luster's other lawyer Joel Isaacson believed that he could use
the consent defense.
But Isaacson later testified that he told Luster the truth about
the seriousness of the charges, and said that in one case, where there was no video recording, there
could be a defense that the sex was consensual with one victim. Isaacson, however, said he told Luster to
consider a plea agreement because he was facing 100 years.
"I don't beg people to plead guilty. It's their life, their case,"
Former Senior Deputy District Attorney John Blair testified that
the plea bargain offer was made by Luster's lawyers and as with any plea offer
at that time, he said he simply wrote a memo to his superiors on June 5, 2001
stating that Luster was willing to plead guilty to two counts of rape.
"They asked me to put something in writing, which I did," said
Blair who is now a court commissioner in San Diego.
Blair said the memo had to submitted to Bradbury who never acted
on it, although his initials are on it.
Defense attorneys, who insist that this plea offer was made by the
DA, argued that Luster would have accepted it if his lawyers would have done a
better job of communicating to him the perils of going to trial.
Leiderman and Nick said some Luster's former lawyers including
Sherman who, they quipped, arrived in a "clown car," were simply siphoning his
finances, bungling the preparation and defense of this case and making the
courtroom atmosphere with the prosecutor
and law enforcement so "toxic" that there left no room for any plea
Luster's financial advisor Albert Gersh testified that Luster's rape-trial
lawyers emptied out Luster's financial account, and he believed that $280,000
left in Luster's account could have been used to flee to Mexico.
Luster was promised this money by Sherman and his investigator
Patrick Campbell who can't be found, according to defense lawyers. Luster was
never given a dime from the $280,000.
The Defense Team Gave
Judge Kathryne Stoltz a Heads Up on
Investigator Bill Pavelic.
Luster's lawyers indicated told Judge Stoltz that Pavelic allege
mood swings and unpredictable temperament on the stand so he could be
problematic and his testimony might last longer than expected as a difficult
On the contrary, Pavelic's testimony was straight forward,
level-headed and never raised his voice on the stand.
Pavelic, a retired investigator
and former Los Angeles detective who worked on the Luster case, testified last
week that his investigation showed that one of the victims, a UCSB student, had
sex with three other men along with having sex with Luster and had been to
nightclubs in Santa Barbara.
Pavelic said the district attorney refused to test the condom used
on the female student for DNA evidence or look at nightclub video surveillance
recordings. He said Luster was initially arrested for kidnapping because the
victim reported the alleged date-rape to the Santa Barbara Police Department
officers who notified Ventura authorities who began an investigation on Luster.
Pavelic said the UCSB student was a "pathetic liar" and very
Pavelic said he recommended several defense lawyers to Luster,
including attorney Richard Sherman. Pavelic said he worked with Sherman on the
John Gordon Jones case. The 46-year-old millionaire and businessman was found not guilty in
2001 of sexually assaulting nine women, seven of whom were allegedly drugged
with GHB, according to court testimony.
Sherman was one of the attorneys in the Jones case and in that
case, prosecutors were also accused of misconduct.
Sherman, who was in his 70s was very charming and persuasive and
became like a father figure to Luster, soon began to use scare tactics on
Luster, saying he was going to be killed in prison or by Ventura authorities,
While in jail, Pavelic said Luster called him every day, seven or
eight times a day and told him that he was fearful and suicidal. Pavelic said
jail deputies told Luster that they would push him down the stairs and nobody
would question what happened.
Both defense lawyers and Contois agreed in court that Sherman
helped Luster escape to Mexico and testimony indicated that Sherman was the
focus of a federal grand jury investigation about Luster's flight to Mexico.
Sherman is now deceased but denied the allegations before he died.
During her turn to cross examine, Contois said she had no
questions for Pavelic who was on the stand for about an hour.
But both defense lawyers and Contois agreed and entered a
stipulation in court that Sherman helped Luster escape to Mexico.
Luster's ex-girlfriend Valerie Balderrama and the mother of his
two adult children, Connor and Quinn, testified last week that she didn't know
that a "stressed and concerned" Luster was going to flee to Mexico.
"He felt that he was innocent and didn't deserve 10 years," said
Adding, "I just knew that he felt that he didn't deserve to go to
A Former Judge Testified
That Luster's Case Shouldn't Have Gone to Trial
Defense witness, retired Judge Arturo Gutierrez, testified at the
hearing that plea deals were always struck up by prosecutors without the
approval of Bradbury or Totten or their supervisors.
One way to sidestep the DA and supervisors' approval was by
getting some of the judges to sign off on plea agreements and making it appear
that it wasn't being offered by them not the DA.
"This case isn't worth what my supervisor wants. The punishment
they want is too severe," Gutierrez said some prosecutors would basically complain
Gutierrez, who took the bench in 1981, testified solely about the
criminal justice practices and policies during the time he was on the bench.
Gutierrez, who retired in 2008 said the Luster case should have
never gone to trial, saying that it should have been settled. He said the eight
to 12 year sentence that Luster said prosecutors offered him was "average" for
similar type of rape cases at that time.
The Judge Bans Cameras In
the Courtroom and The Lawyers Agree to Gag Themselves.
Judge Kathryne Stoltz, a retired justice who was assigned to
preside over Luster's hearing, banned cameras in the courtroom because lawyers
say they don't want pre-trial publicity in case Luster is retried.
In the middle of the hearing, Jay Leiderman and David Nick told the judge
that they had reached another stipulation with prosecutor Contois that they
would no longer make comments to the media during the court proceedings.
During a court recess, Judge Stoltz ordered that a TV camera set
up in the hallway just outside the courtroom last week be turned off after defense
lawyers complained about the cameras being there.
The courtroom deputies ordered the camera to be turned off.
The Heir to the Max Factor
Cosmetic Empire Arrives with About Four Feet of Chains on His Body
Luster, now 49 years old, comes into court wearing a chain around
his waist and his ankles are shackled and his hand is handcuffed to a chair.
Luster's lawyer Joel Isaacson testified that he didn't recall
talking about a possible movie about Luster's ordeal. The judge who presided at
Luster's trial for rape, Ken Riley, was interviewed by Fox New's Bill O'Reilly
about the case, according to court testimony.
Luster, who is the heir of cosmetics giant Max Factor Sr. and an
heir to the Max Factor cosmetics fortune, has been in prison for more than 10
In court and dressed in jail garb, Luster, who looks thinner,
unshaven and fatigued, will occasionally lean over and quietly ask questions or
talk to his lawyers.
In Mexico, Luster lived
at the two-room residence at Motel Los Angeles in the hills overlooking this
seaside tourist town, according to a story published in the Star in 2003.
Luster kept two fishing poles against the wall
near his queen-sized bed, a small boom box in the corner and two surfboards
with accompanying covers on the floor in the adjacent den, the story stated.
"Please do not
touch these boards," he wrote in a note to the motel staff.
Luster's hearing resumes at Courtroom 23 on
Monday at 2 p.m.