Paris Hilton's Grim-Reality Show

In a courtroom illustration, a teary Paris Hilton clutches a tissue.
In a courtroom illustration, a teary Paris Hilton clutches a tissue. (By Mona Shafer Edwards -- Associated Press)

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By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007

LOS ANGELES, June 8 -- Talk about a reality show. Paris Hilton, usually so poised, such a glamorous sphinx minx, got really real today as the hotel heiress and professional red carpeteer was pulled from the courtroom by bailiffs, crying and calling for her mother as the judge ordered her back to county jail to serve the remainder of her 45-day sentence for violating the terms of her probation.

"It's not right!" sobbed Hilton. "Mom!" she called out. Again. "Mom!" to her mother, Kathy Hilton, who also wept and then crumpled, embraced by her husband, Rick.

It was scary. Love her or hate her, Hilton appeared to be -- and we're not sure this is the exact medical term -- a basket case. She arrived in the courtroom two hours late, her face flushed, her eyes red dots, her blond hair disheveled and loose, wearing a long-sleeve gray sweat-shirt tunic, and she sat before Superior Court Judge Michael Sauer during the hour-long hearing, twitching, rocking, trembling, dabbing her eyes with tissue. She appeared to cry through the entire proceeding. At one point, she turned in her chair at the defense table toward her mother to mouth the words "I love you."

And then when Sauer remanded her to custody, Hilton went a little nuts. After sobbing for mom, the 26-year-old multimillionaire could be heard shrieking in the hallway as she was carted away to the clink.

The day dawned in Los Angeles with the news/rumors that Hilton would not be attending the hearing at the Metropolitan Courthouse, where many a drunk-driving defendant has met his or her fate, but instead would be hooked up to the courtroom via telephone from her house arrest. Nobody seemed to know who made that decision -- but an obviously exasperated Sauer wouldn't have it, and ordered Hilton to appear in person. And so sheriff's deputies traveled to Hilton's Hollywood Hills mansion to get her. Then ensued pandemonium.

After a long wait, Hilton appeared outside her place on Kings Road above the Sunset Strip. She hugged her parents, then was handcuffed and ushered -- alone -- into the back seat of a sheriff's patrol car as a hundred paparazzi transformed into feral pack animals, pushing and shoving and surrounding the car, as deputies barked on loudspeakers to back off and news helicopters circled loudly overhead. According to KFI-AM talk radio, one photographer's toes were crushed in the mini-melee.

If a reader has just returned from the Amazon jungle and has not followed the Hilton affair, she surrendered to serve her 45-day sentence at the Century Regional Detention Facility on Sunday night after attending the MTV Movie Awards (where the audience applauded her imminent incarceration). She was jailed for violating the terms of her probation, specifically driving (repeatedly) with a suspended license after a plea agreement following her arrest for driving while under the influence of alcohol. She did three days in jail locked down for 23 hours a day in isolation, in a cell with a bunk bed, table, sink and metal toilet. She was visited by her psychiatrist.

Then, early Thursday, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca decided to "reassign" Hilton from jail to house arrest and an electronic monitoring bracelet. The stated reason was that the sheriff's department decided that Hilton was suffering from an undisclosed "medical condition" that could not be treated in jail, though the L.A. jails are staffed by nurses and doctors. So she was sprung and spent a day under house arrest.

But there was outrage, and a very public tussle between prosecutors, the judge and the sheriff, with accusations about "celebrity justice" and the privileges afforded the rich and famous in the post-O.J. Simpson Los Angeles criminal justice system. All of it fueled, in part, because no one has revealed the exact nature of Hilton's "medical condition" and why it would allow her to get out of jail, but not the thousands of other drug-addicted, mentally ill and sick inmates.

City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and his staff, who had prosecuted Hilton on the DUI case, petitioned the court to send her back to the slammer -- and so Hilton was dragged again into court Friday morning.

Hilton was defended by three attorneys. When the hearing finally got underway at 11 a.m., Assistant City Attorney Dan Jeffries argued that the sheriff's decision to reassign Hilton to house arrest was "in direct contradiction to the orders of this court," because Sauer has explicitly stated during his sentencing that Hilton serve her time in jail -- with no work or weekend furloughs or house arrest. Jeffries said the sheriff had provided "no good cause" to release Hilton for medical reasons.

Further, invoking "the framers of the Constitution," Jeffries said Hilton's seemingly special treatment "destroys any semblance of faith in our judicial system." The prosecutor, somewhat provocatively, suggested that Hilton could spend her house arrest giving "lavish parties" or even doing her time "in the Hamptons." Jeffries asked, "If she is released, why not everyone else?" During his argument, Hilton sat slumped in her chair, occasionally scratching her back, weeping and making sad faces.

Defense attorney Richard Hutton said that, with all due respect, "I don't think the court has the power to countermand the sheriff's decision" to place her under house arrest. The legal hurdle here is who dictates the conditions of incarceration -- a judge or the jailer. Hutton said, "There is something wrong, medically, with this defendant," and perhaps intuiting which way the judge was going to rule, offered a last-ditch alternative -- that the judge hold off, allow Hilton to return to house arrest, and then listen in his chamber (not in public) to more evidence about Hilton's alleged medical condition. Another of her attorneys, Steve Levine, said of the jail, "The sheriff has determined that because of her medical situation, this is a bad place for her, a dangerous place for her."

The judge was not so inclined. "I at no time condoned the actions of the sheriff and at no time told him I approved the actions," Sauer said. "At no time did I approve the defendant being released from custody to her home." Fuming, Sauer said that despite promises, the sheriff had not provided any medical evidence in support of Hilton's reassignment to home arrest.

At a brief afternoon news conference, Baca defended his handling of the case. "The criminal justice system should not create a football out of Miss Hilton," Baca said. The sheriff, while not disclosing the nature of her illness, said that Hilton's medical condition was "deteriorating" and that the time she served was in line with that of other inmates released from the overcrowded jails. "The only thing I can detect as special treatment is her sentence," Baca said. "The special treatment, in a sense, appears to be because of her celebrity status."

And where is Hilton now? She will likely spend the weekend in the medical unit of the downtown Twin Towers County Jail.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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