- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

LOS ANGELES

Just when we thought we had seen it all in celebrity trials, Phil Spector’s bombastic lead attorney has decided the record producer’s murder case can continue just fine without jurors seeing one key element — himself.

Bruce Cutler, the New York lawyer who opened the proceedings in April as the star performer, has taken time out from the 10-week-old trial to film a new courtroom TV show, “Jury Duty.”

Promotional clips from the show’s Web site depict people pleading their small-claims cases to “Judge Cutler” and a jury of three celebrities. If the celebrities — producers promise appearances by Phyllis Diller, Dick Van Patten and assorted lesser lights — can’t decide the case, “Judge Cutler will render the verdict.”

On Monday, Mr. Cutler vowed to deliver the closing argument in the Spector trial even though he will not have been in court for much of the defense case. He said he has been watching the trial on TV and reading transcripts of testimony.

“I’m not doing it to deprecate the significance of the case,” Mr. Cutler said. “I don’t need to be there every day.”

He might not be breaking any ethical rules by taping the show during the trial, but “it’s certainly unorthodox,” Loyola University Law School professor Laurie Levenson said.

“The ethical question is, ‘Can he still reach the level of competence needed to represent a client on a murder charge?’ ” Miss Levenson said. “If he’s superlawyer and he can do it, he won’t be violating ethics, but he certainly will raise some eyebrows.”

Others have pursued TV careers after a trial, notably O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark and Mr. Simpson’s late lawyer, Johnnie Cochran Jr., who had brief stints on TV, but not during the trial.

“He is taking celebrity lawyering to a whole new level,” Miss Levenson said of Mr. Cutler, perhaps best known for representing the late mob boss John Gotti in New York. “It seems like just a sideshow, but you wonder how it will affect future cases.”

Mr. Cutler sat by Mr. Spector’s side and quietly conferred with him through the early stages of the trial. He has become a marginal figure in the case in recent weeks, however, and disappeared from the courtroom completely last week.

Jury consultant Kathy Kellerman, who has been attending the trial, said Mr. Cutler’s absence may be a puzzle to the Spector panelists.

“Jurors notice when someone new is in the courtroom. They also notice when someone isn’t there. The issue is why do they think he’s not there,” she said.

Some jurors may be worried that Mr. Cutler has taken ill again, Miss Kellerman said; a week’s recess was called at the start of the trial because Mr. Cutler was ill.

Others may think he was banished because of his combative style at the start of the case, she said. After he was admonished for yelling at a witness in cross-examination at the outset, he never questioned another witness.

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