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JAN
24
2 YEARS

Anita Busch, Michael Ovitz At War in Anthony Pellicano Civil Case

Litigation heats up over the mystery that started a media frenzy ten years ago.

Michael Ovitz Headshot - P 2011
Getty Images

More than ten years.

That's how long it has been since a dead fish, a rose and a card that read "Stop" introduced the world to Anthony Pellicano. Those were the items left on the broken windshield of former Los Angeles Times reporter and Hollywood Reporter editor Anita Busch's car, and a media frenzy ensued when it was revealed that a shadowy private eye who worked on behalf of many of Hollywood's most powerful figures had ordered the intimidation attempt.

But who put Pellicano up to that?

A decade later, that central mystery still hasn't been resolved.

Pellicano isn't talking. He's in prison now after pleading guilty to illegal possession of firearms and explosives, unlawful wiretapping and racketeering. But pinning blame for that infamous June 20, 2002 event might be just right around the corner.

Around the time of Pellicano's arrest in 2006, there were a slew of lawsuits filed, threatening to expose Hollywood's deepest, darkest secrets. But those have now faded from the spotlight, and for less than obvious reasons. A trial judge in 2007 overseeing some two dozen suits imposed a stay on all activity pending the criminal prosecutions. Two years later, a judge gave a green light to proceed, but only after the parties agreed to cloak the litigation in secrecy. Since then, proceedings have moved slowly, due in no small part to the fact that Pellicano, representing himself in court in hopes of gaining an early jail release, is not yet available to be deposed without violating his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

But suddenly, things are heating up again on the Pellicano front. Now, old scores will be settled. The case against Chris Rock has settled. The case against Paramount chief Brad Grey was dismissed. But others are proceeding.

Witness Busch's multi-million lawsuit against Pellicano and others.

The initial suspicion of what triggered the dead fish and white rose centered on actor Steven Seagal and his former producing partner Jules Nasso, perhaps with mob assistance. At the time, Busch was preparing a big profile on them. The FBI later said there was "no evidence" of a Seagal link.

Along the way, Busch began to suspect Michael Ovitz, the former president of Disney who co-founded CAA, whom she also had been writing about extensively in 2002. It's hotly debated in court when and how Busch made that connection. On the day of the attack, an LAT editor mentioned Ovitz's name, and Busch laughed it off as a joke. In February 2003, Hollywood power lawyer Bert Fields told Busch that the infamous event could have be tied to something other than the Seagal story. That year, she jotted down in notes, "Dear God...it could have only been one person...only one person makes sense and that is Michael Ovitz."

But Busch says she only really connected the dots about "Ovitz's liability" in 2006 when The New York Times reported, based on FBI summaries, that Ovitz acknowledged hiring Pellicano a few months before the white rose incident.

Ovitz is now asking for sanctions against Busch, summary judgment in the lawsuit on the basis that her claims are time-barred, and most intriguingly, the right to learn through discovery what else Busch was working on at the time in question.

Busch, who has written articles about many powerful figures in Hollywood, has attempted to assert a journalist's privilege and shield the identity of her sources. Ovitz's lawyer says his client has a right to do his own digging, writing in court papers this month, "There remains the very significant possibility that some other subject of Busch's investigations was behind the threats."

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner