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An ex-defense attorney for Phil Spector was declared in contempt of court Monday after she tearfully refused to testify that she saw a defense expert in the murder case pick up possible evidence.
Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler ordered the attorney, Sara Caplan, to be jailed until she testifies. But he stayed the order to allow for an immediate appeal before she was put behind bars.
Without the jury present, prosecutor Alan Jackson asked her a series of questions based on her earlier testimony that defense forensic expert Henry Lee picked up a small white object with tweezers at the scene where actress Lana Clarkson died and put it in a vial.
Such an item has never been turned over to the prosecution.
An emotional Caplan repeatedly refused to answer the prosecutor, citing attorney-client privilege and constitutional reasons, and repeated her refusal each time Fidler directed her to answer.
“I can admire what she’s doing and what she’s going through,” Fidler said. “I cannot allow it and I cannot find it to be an adequate explanation or a basis for a refusal to testify.”
The judge had already found that attorney-client privilege did not apply to issues of evidence destruction and that in any event her testimony on the issue at two previous hearings was a total waiver of the privilege.
Caplan, a highly respected criminal defense attorney with 25 years of experience, told the court last week she would refuse to testify to the jury about what she saw. The judge had laid out the consequences and gave all sides time to find a way to avoid the contempt proceeding.
Fidler, however, announced at the start of Monday’s court session that negotiations had failed and he had to formally hear her refusal in a detailed contempt proceeding. He noted that the contempt proceedings must be held without the jury present.
Clarkson was shot through the mouth in the foyer of Spector’s home on Feb. 3, 2003. Spector’s defense contends she shot herself.
Caplan was among members of Spector’s original defense team who examined the scene the next day.
In a special hearing on May 3 without the jury present, Caplan took the stand to deny a claim by a law clerk that she picked up an object at the scene.
However, in a surprise, Caplan said she pointed out a white object about the size of a fingernail to criminalist Henry Lee and that he picked it up and put it in a vial. She said she did not know what the object was or what happened to it after Lee put it in the vial.
Lee later testified that he did not pick up such an item, but on May 23 the judge made a formal finding that he did.
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