A meeting between Los Angeles prosecutors and Mel Gibson’s lawyers has fueled speculation that the actor could soon be charged with domestic violence – but legal experts say a decision could take several more weeks.
Last October, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department finished investigating a claim that Gibson punched then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva in the face a year ago and knocked out two veneers on her teeth. But prosecutors have deferred any decision on whether to prosecute the actor until the sheriffs complete their investigation into claims that Grigorieva later extorted money from Gibson.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore tells PEOPLE “the extortion investigation is about 90 percent done.” Whitmore declined to give a timetable as to when the inquiry will wrap – despite speculation by insiders that prosecutors will decide on both cases as soon as this month.
Radar Online reported Wednesday that it’s almost inevitable that Gibson will be charged with assault, and that Tuesday’s meeting between prosecutors and Gibson’s lawyers was a last-ditch effort by Gibson’s counsel to “persuade authorities not to charge the actor.” (Gibson, who was recently photographed in Costa Rica, where he owns a home, did not attend the meeting.)
The D.A.’s office responded with a statement confirming the meeting but emphasizing that the allegations remain under review. “Any decisions made by the D.A.’s office in this case will be made public in a timely manner,” prosecutors said.
Don’t Make Assumptions
No one should presuppose what prosecutors might do with the assault case before considering why they’re waiting for all of the reports on the extortion case, notes Santa Monica defense attorney Richard Hirsch.
The assault claim only came to light after a deal fell through under which Gibson would have paid Grigorieva $15 million to keep quiet about the alleged assault. Grigorieva says Gibson’s attorneys suggested the deal and it was she who turned it down because it also would have given Gibson more custody of their 14-month-old daughter Lucia.
“If the DA concludes she was extorting him, they’re less inclined to file a domestic violence case where she’s a victim,” says Hirsch, who is not involved in the case.
Gibson, 55, has admitted in legal declarations and on a recorded telephone conversation that he slapped Grigorieva, 40. But if a jury can be convinced that she extorted money after the assault, it would be more likely to believe Gibson’s version of events, Hirsch says.
Gibson claims it was Grigorieva who acted erratically during their scuffle on the evening of Jan. 6, 2010, and that he slapped her to “shock her so that she would stop screaming, continuing shaking Lucia back and forth.”
The assault case could be filed as a felony because of how hard Gibson allegedly hit Grigorieva and because prosecutors will often file the higher charge for negotiating purposes, legal experts say.
“It’s not misdemeanor battery if he knocked out her teeth the way she says he did,” says Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman. “It s assault with intent to commit great bodily injury.”
He adds that, felony or misdemeanor, Gibson could resolve the case without any time behind bars because his record is clean save for a misdemeanor DUI for which probation ended the year before the assault. However, a felony conviction would make it harder to get any movie roles because producers can’t insure stars serving felony probation.
Gibson’s cameo in The Hangover 2 was rejected by the film’s director last October amid buzz that members of the cast or crew didn’t want him around.
It remains to be seen if any legal action against Gibson affects public reaction to the long-anticipated debut of his new movie, The Beaver, which is set to premiere in March at the South by Southwest Festival in Texas.
• With reporting by KEN LEE