Tom Mesereau and Sharon Appelbaum, Danny Masterson’s former lawyers before being kicked out of the actor’s defense team, have been charged with leaking confidential discovery materials to the Church of Scientology.
Los Angeles Supreme Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo ruled Wednesday that Meseareau and Applebaum made a criminal discovery in connection with claims by Masterson prosecutors that they are being stalked and harassed. That discovery was shared with Vicki Podberesky, an attorney who defended the church in a civil suit against the women who used the information to file a complaint against the lead prosecutors in the trial that they sought false testimony to convict Masterson.
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In the order, Olmedo also concluded that the church’s complaint was “demonstrably false.”
Before Masterson was convicted in May of the rape of two women at his Los Angeles home in the early 2000s, in which the jury failed to reach a decision on another charge of forcible rape in a split verdict, it was revealed that a lawyer who represented the Church in a civil proceeding. case of the prosecutors who also tried to intervene in the actor’s trial had obtained criminal discovery material. The information consisted of reports, photos and texts that included the addresses and license plates of the women.
In 12 letters from the Church to Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore citing the discovery, Podberesky also called for the opening of criminal investigations against the detectives who investigated Masterson for allegedly failing to follow up on claims that Masterson prosecutors filed false police reports. She also claimed that their testimony was biased against the church. Attached to the complaint was a link to a folder containing much of the prosecution’s discovery that was provided to Masterson’s criminal defense team.
Philip Cohen, Shawn Holley and Karen Goldstein, Masterson’s defense team at the trial, denied being the source of the leak. Holley indicated she believes it came from the actor’s prior attorney.
At a hearing on Wednesday investigating the source of the leak, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said most of the discoveries the Church made were made between March and December 2021, when Mesereau was Masterson’s lead attorney. He urged the court to impose sanctions, arguing that the documents were handed over with the intent to intimidate law enforcement and prosecutors.
Letting the behavior go unpunished, he explained, will have a “chilling effect” on prosecutors who come to the police. “These are experienced lawyers. They know this,” he said referring to the discovery procedure. “These are rules that have been around for a long time.”
Mesereau and Appelbaum’s defense was based on arguments that Olmedo never issued an order preventing them from sharing discoveries.
“The court bluntly issued a number of statements saying that certain discoveries would not be allowed and that discoveries did not take place,” said Edith Matthai, Mesereau’s attorney. “What is alleged to have been shared is discovery that was allowed, and there was no warrant or statement I’ve seen anywhere in a transcript stating that discovery cannot be shared for the purposes of the civil suit.”
However, the judge ruled that the defense’s position “contradicts both statutory authority and case law” and “frustrates Marsy’s law, legislative intent, government interests, and privacy; and, above all, conflicts with the previous findings and orders of this Court.” Responding to claims she did not enact a blanket ban on sharing discovery materials, she said she “gave numerous statements during contentious discovery hearings and repeatedly told the defense that the criminal discovery process would not be used for discovery in civil cases.” Her words , she explained, are “legal orders.”
In the April 2021 discovery hearings, Olmedo stated that “Scientology is not a party to these proceedings” and that “We will not litigate the civil case in the criminal case, nor shall any discovery relevant or more relevant to the civil case be a basis for gaining discovery here in the criminal case.” She has also declined previous defense bids to obtain discovery that could be helpful to Masterson and Church in the civil suit, including a demand for a number of items she found “had nothing to do with the criminal case.” She wrote in the ruling, which quotes a transcript of the August 2021 hearing: “It appears to the court that not only is the defendant seeking to obtain material that might be useful in the civil case, it appears to the court that the defendant is pursuing the criminal process to trying to obtain material that he would otherwise never be entitled to in the civil case and thus using the criminal process for a purpose other than that for which it was intended.” In addition, regarding Masterson’s attorneys in the civil and criminal cases, Olmedo stated at a hearing in September 2022: “I notice that they are two different teams and have two different interests … So the free flow of confidential information between the two is not necessarily protected.”
Attorneys for plaintiffs in the civil suit against Masterson and Church requested access to the leaked discovery material to determine what information was used to harass their clients. They also called for a court order prohibiting parties from further sharing the documents.
Although she was aware of the hearing, Podberesky did not appear. Olmedo said she has no authority to force her to do anything or punish her because she is not a party to the criminal case. Podberesky previously attempted to intervene in Masterson’s criminal case as an “officer of the court”, arguing that the grand jury subpoena should be turned over to the defense as it could provide impeachment evidence. The offer was rejected. According to Olmedo, lawyers from Podberesky’s office attended almost every proceeding in the criminal case.
Mesereau, who also represented Cosby in a criminal case and secured an acquittal for Michael Jackson in 2005, declined to comment.
Masterson will be sentenced on August 4. He faces 30 years to life in prison.
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