- Associated Press - Friday, February 3, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Attorneys for a deputy who arrested Mel Gibson on suspicion of drunken driving want to call the Oscar-winner as a witness during an upcoming trial to determine if the officer suffered discrimination because of the case.

The trial will focus on what happened to Deputy James Mee after he arrested the actor-director in 2006, and whether he endured discrimination because he is Jewish.

Mee’s attorneys are hoping to show the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department moved to protect Gibson because the star had a close relationship with the department before his arrest.

Attorneys for the county have denied Mee faced discrimination or retaliation.

The case is likely to focus heavily on Gibson’s arrest, when the actor made anti-Semitic comments that Mee claims his superiors forced him to remove from a report.

Mee also alleges he was ostracized and his opportunities for promotion were blocked after he arrested Gibson.

Gibson’s reputation was damaged for years after details of the arrest and his anti-Semitic and sexist rant was leaked to celebrity website TMZ.

The actor apologized for his conduct, and his conviction was expunged in 2009 after he completed all the terms of his sentence.

Sheriff Lee Baca also could be called to testify, according to a witness list filed Thursday.

Attorneys for the county are asking a judge to block jurors from seeing a video of Gibson in a jail booking area and a public service announcement that Gibson recorded for the agency prior to his arrest.

Gibson appeared in a deputy’s uniform for the spot, and Mee’s attorneys claim it is important context for jurors to consider.

Gibson’s work as a spokesman for the department helps explain “the circumstances that serve as a backdrop to the harassment and hostile work environment that Deputy Mee suffered,” his attorneys wrote in a court filing. Gibson “wasn’t just another arrestee. He was the `public face’ of the department.”

Neither Gibson nor Baca have been deposed in advance of the trial, which is scheduled to begin on Feb. 14. If they are called as witnesses, Baca’s testimony is expected to last about an hour, while Gibson may spend about 90 minutes on the witness stand.

“He’ll do whatever is legally appropriate,” Baca’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “We look forward to telling the whole story.”

Gibson’s spokesman Alan Nierob declined comment.

In all, 28 possible witnesses are listed in a pretrial filing, but it’s unlikely all will testify.

Mee’s attorney Etan Lorant said he has been unable to serve Gibson with a subpoena but may not need to call the actor to the stand if he is able to show jurors footage from an interview with Diane Sawyer after the arrest.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Scheper ruled last month that the case should go to trial if it cannot be settled, but noted that Mee’s attorneys might have trouble proving their case.

“While I think it’s thin, I think there are enough facts to create a question for the jury to decide,” Scheper said during a January hearing.

She noted that Mee remains a deputy, although he no longer patrols for drunken drivers in the coastal community of Malibu.


Anthony McCartney can be reached at https://twitter.com/mccartneyAP

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