No Justice, No Jail for Lindsay Lohan

Celebrities are different from you and me when it comes to criminal justice. We see defendants like O.J. Simpson, Chris Brown, Naomi Campbell, and Courtney Love skate through the system with barely a slap on the wrist. But then there are cases like poor little probationer Lindsay Lohan, where the court has gone so far overboard in trying to prove that the actress is not receiving special treatment, that she has been treated more harshly than your average Joe defendant.

The hypocrisy stems from Superior Court Judge Marsha Revel's bizarre maneuver. In a move I have never seen in almost two decades of trial work, the judge postponed her vacation, so that she could personally greet Lindsay Lohan in court for the sole purpose of hearing the troubled actress's excuse for missing a probation hearing date last Thursday. Talk about a court keeping itself in the media spotlight. I haven't seen this type of catering to the cameras since Judge Lance Ito's posturing in the O.J. Simpson case. Judge Revel is acting like a star struck pre-teen infatuated with Herbie the Love Bug.

After all, no trial had been scheduled. No jury had been convened. No evidentiary bombshells were expected to go off in court. The sole purpose of Monday's hearing was to determine whether the starlet's excuse of losing her passport during the Cannes film Festival, and thus missing her flight back to Los Angeles in time for her court date, was a valid one. All the judge needed to know was whether Lindsay had a valid plane ticket back to the United States in time for a court date and whether she made appropriate and timely steps to contact the US Embassy in France to secure a temporary passport.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist on the bench to determine whether the dog really did eat Ms. Lohan's homework. The judge wasn't going to make new case law or engage in complex legal analysis requiring any specialized skills in jurisprudence. The court date was scheduled merely to determine whether Ms. Lohan intentionally avoided her court date, an illegal act, or whether her absence was an unavoidable, unintentional, lawful act.

Judge Revel could have easily left a detailed memo inside Lindsay's court file indicating her recommendation for dealing with Ms. Lohan when she returned to court, depending on what proof the actress offered in support of her blunder. Any other judge would have relied on the competence of a substitute judge in being able to judge the validity of the excuse. But not Judge Revel. By making it her personal business to be present at a non-essential court date of a celebrity defendant, she indeed treated that celebrity differently from every other defendant who passes through the system.

I have represented hundreds of clients through the years who have missed their court dates. It is an offense the courts take seriously and it can result in jail time. But still, it happens all the time. And in courthouses as large as Los Angeles and New York, there are several hundred occurrences a month where defendants go missing. And nobody bats an eye, unless a defendant is a violent risk to the community. No judge waits around for a defendant to come back into court. Judges don't take a personal interest in a defendant and rearrange their personal lives. That is the true definition of special treatment, but it's the kind of special treatment that is harmful to a criminal defendant.

At the end of the court hearing, Judge Revel found that Lindsay Lohan was worthy of going home and not spending the night behind bars. So clearly, Lindsay's excuses were valid ones. Although she left court with additional conditions of probation, such as an ankle bracelet that measured her alcohol intake and a restriction that she not drink or take drugs, there was nothing new or extraordinary that was done in the Lohan DUI probation case that isn't done every day in courtrooms across the country.

It is special when a judge postpones their vacation to deal with one defendant in a system as large as Los Angeles County's, because it's not the norm. Anyone who can argue that Judge Revel's decision to re-arrange her personal life is not going to come back to bite Lindsay and influence the judge's consideration of the evidence at the next hearing date, when the court will decide whether the actress violated her probation, is not being realistic about the human perspective.

Although Lindsay didn't get jail time this time, when she got treated differently from everyone else, she also didn't get justice.