At Trial, Michael Ovitz Intends to Blame Steven Seagal for Threatening Journalist

Anita Busch wants the judge to rule that Ovitz can't shift responsibility for the acts of private eye Anthony Pellicano.
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Steven Seagal

Michael Ovitz, the former Hollywood super-agent, is finally showcasing what his defense will be when he stands trial in February for hiring Anthony Pellicano to allegedly surveil and threaten entertainment journalist Anita Busch.

In court documents filed earlier this month, Ovitz argues that he should be able to pin blame on actor Steven Seagal for what happened in 2002, when Busch found a dead fish with a rose in its mouth on the broken windshield of her car, with a card that said, "Stop."

Busch's lawsuit is the last of many civil actions over the activities of private eye Anthony Pellicano, who is currently sitting in a prison for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, unlawful wiretapping and racketeering. Before the trial begins, a judge must rule whether Ovitz can point the finger at Seagal (who has recently been the focus of accusations of sexual misconduct).

Ovitz has admitted hiring Pellicano, and Busch has brought a motion to preclude him from introducing arguments, testimony or speculation as to others who bear responsibility for Pellicano's acts.

Fighting this motion, Ovitz's attorney tells the court that Busch must prove that Pellicano was acting as his agent when he allegedly caused Busch's injuries including severe emotional distress. "But if [Busch] cannot show Mr. Pellicano was acting as Mr. Ovtiz's agent when the alleged incidents occurred, then she has no case against Mr. Ovitz," states Ovitz's court brief.

When Busch originally filed her lawsuit way back in 2004, there was a great deal of mystery about who had harassed Busch, who has worked for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter, and who currently writes for Deadline Hollywood. She originally sued anonymous John Does.

In 2002, around the time of the dead-fish incident, Busch was working on two prominent stories — one about Jules Nasso, Seagal and organized crime in Hollywood and the other about Ovitz's career, which included co-founding CAA and briefly serving as president of Disney.

Busch kept notes about the incidents and talked with the FBI in connection with its investigation. She once testified that she understood "Stop" to mean Nasso and Seagal, but later came to conclude it was Ovitz. The FBI would later say there was no persuasive evidence against Seagal, who has sought an apology over accusations that he says have been devastating to his career.

Nevertheless, in his newest court documents, Ovitz talks about how Pellicano was a high-profile investigator with numerous clients and that "evidence shows Steven Seagal hired Mr. Pellicano, and Mr. Pellicano hired [Alex] Proctor, who put the metal tray with the dead fish with a rose in its mouth on the windshield of Plaintiff's car..."

Ovitz insists the evidence is "not speculative," pointing, to among other things, what was produced by a government informant named Daniel Patterson. Working with the FBI, Patterson would secretly record conversations with Proctor. 

"In July and August 2002, Patterson recorded Proctor telling Patterson that Steven Seagal hired Mr. Pellicano to set fire to Plaintiff's car, and Mr. Pellicano hired Proctor to set fire to Plaintiff's car," states the Ovitz brief. "Seagal wanted to dissuade Plaintiff from reporting on Seagal's relationship with organized crime (the Gambino family). Proctor told Patterson that Seagal was Mr. Pellicano's client, that Seagal wanted to stop Plaintiff, and that Seagal wanted to make it appear as if the Gambino family were 'putting the hit' on Plaintiff."

In reply, Busch's attorney Evan Marshall suggest this is all inadmissible and unreliable hearsay.

In a brief filed last week, they characterized what Proctor was doing was "purporting to recount statements by Pellicano," and that Proctor himself didn't buy it.

"Under no theory would Pellicano have a reason to subject his real client to potential exposure by confiding his client's identity to a minion with no need to know," states the Busch brief. "Pellicano's statements to Proctor are not even consistent, sometimes implicating Seagal, sometimes forces 'back east.'"

Marshall tells the judge of the need to screen out a prolonged examination of "every possible person [Busch] could have suspected," while Ovitz argues that his adversary is trying to win the case by disguising a motion for summary adjudication as one over the evidence to be presented at trial.