Judgment Day In 'Melibu': Gibson's DUI Case Is Closed

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2006

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 17 -- No big surprise. Mel Gibson, through his attorney, took a plea bargain Thursday and was pronounced guilty of misdemeanor drunken driving by a county judge in Malibu.

The Oscar-winning actor-director, who will avoid jail time, was ordered to seek treatment for his problems with alcohol. Gibson did not appear in court and the news media were not alerted to the hearing until it was just about to begin.

As almost everyone on the planet might recall, Gibson was popped last month while bombing down the Pacific Coast Highway at speeds exceeding 85 mph in his Lexus sedan at 2:09 a.m., an open bottle of tequila by his side, after a night carousing at the Moonshadows beachfront bar.

During his arrest, Gibson launched into an expletive-laced rant about Jews and how they are responsible "for all the wars in the world." Gibson also famously bragged that he "owned" Malibu (pranksters have changed signs around town to read "Melibu"). He snarled at a female deputy, "What are you looking at?" and then made a crude remark about her breasts.

The anti-Semitic and sexist remarks were included in a partial police report -- obtained by the celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com -- that became fodder for a million dinner table conversations. The entire report has not been released, and the authorities have refused to produce video and audio tapes of Gibson's arrest. Requests by the news media have been denied by Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose spokesman initially said Gibson was arrested "without incident."

In a series of public statements, Gibson apologized for his "despicable" behavior and asked for forgiveness for his anti-Semitic and bigoted "vicious words." Gibson, 50, confessed to a lifelong struggle with booze. On Thursday he was sentenced to three years' probation and was ordered to attend frequent Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the next year.

Gibson, whose 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ" grossed $612 million worldwide, was fined $1,300.

Gibson was not required to appear in court for the brief proceeding. His attorney, Blair Berk, offered that Gibson was already in treatment and that the actor volunteered to make a public service announcement about drinking and driving.

Several years ago, Gibson made a PSA for the L.A. sheriff, which led some to suggest that the Hollywood star was given special treatment during his arrest. According to the police report, Gibson not only was verbally abusive but also tried to flee.

Attorney Jeff Gold of Gold & Witham, which has five Los Angeles area offices that specialize in drunken-driving cases, said he's watched the case closely since Gibson's arrest. "We all are interested because we're all greedy and selfish and hungry for celebrity," he said, "because we'd all like to get the case, to be candid."

Gold said that six to 12 months of AA attendance is usually not a part of the standard disposition of a first-time drunken-driving conviction unless the defendant's blood alcohol level exceeds 0.15. (Gibson blew a 0.12; the legal limit in California is 0.08.)

Gibson might have been ordered into extra rehabilitation in a trade with prosecutors for ignoring aggravating factors in the case, such as his escape attempt, Gold said. Or the extra rehab was a smart public-relations calculation, he said.

"This way he takes his hit, he acts like a man, he voluntarily takes all this rehab they didn't ask of him," Gold said. "Sometimes the proper apology or the proper humility is worth tons and tons of the best explanations."

"This was an appropriate outcome, which addresses all the public-safety concerns of drinking and driving," Deputy District Attorney Gina Satriano said in a statement.

Superior Court Judge Lawrence J. Mira took the plea. The original judge assigned to the case, Terry Adamson, recused herself because Gibson is a neighbor.

Special correspondent Sonya Geis contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company