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Billionaire's ex-wife must pay $3.9 million in Pellicano suit

October 26, 2012 |  3:04 pm

Anthony Pellicano, once the go-to private investigator for Los Angeles’ rich and famous, was marched off to federal prison four years ago for illegally wiretapping enemies of his well-heeled clients.

This week, a Los Angeles jury handed down the first civil verdict against one of his clients, ordering the former wife of a local billionaire to pay $3.9 million for her role in phone taps Pellicano arranged during the couple’s divorce.

The invasion of privacy suit against Jacqueline Colburn was the first of nearly two dozen lawsuits related to Pellicano’s crimes to go to trial.

She hired Pellicano in 1999 after splitting with the late construction magnate Richard D. Colburn. She was his eighth wife and 47 years younger. According to allegations aired during the Superior Court trial, Jacqueline Colburn knew the investigator was tapping phone lines at her estranged husband’s Beverly Hills estate and frequently listened to the illicit recordings. Richard Colburn died in 2004.

Three of his adult children and a former employee, all of whom used the phones, brought the suit against Jacqueline Colburn three years later.

Her lawyer, Stanley McKiernan, said she had not decided whether to appeal. During the trial, McKiernan argued that there was no proof the wiretapping ever occurred.

The FBI was unable to listen to many of Pellicano’s audio files and no witnesses heard the recordings from the Colburn phones. “We did not have a smoking gun in terms of an actual recording,” acknowledged Lawrence Segal, a lawyer for Richard Colburn’s children and personal assistant.

What his side had was testimony from a physical therapist who said Jacqueline Colburn bragged about the wiretaps and a former Pellicano employee who recounted her many trips to the private detective's  office to listen to some type of recording. Pellicano, who is serving a 15-year sentence in a Texas prison, did not respond to the suit.

The investigator refused to answer questions about the recordings when lawyers attempted to depose him in prison in the Colburn case. Segal said he would ask a judge next month to issue a default judgment and make him jointly liable for the $3.9-million verdict.

The other suits, including those against Hollywood power players Michael Ovitz and Brad Grey and comedian Chris Rock, are proceeding slowly, in part because of difficulties obtaining depositions from Pellicano and others convicted in the scheme.

Neville Johnson, a lawyer for a number of plaintiffs with pending suits, welcomed the Colburn verdict.

“It shows that when [a case] finally gets to the jury, [jurors] are going to award substantial damages,” Johnson said.


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--Harriet Ryan