The ex-wife of a late billionaire has been ordered to pay $3.9 million for invading the privacy of the man's three children and former personal assistant and causing them emotional distress with a wiretapping scheme created by disgraced private eye Anthony Pellicano.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury reached its verdict late Friday after about three hours of deliberations in the plaintiffs' case against Jacqueline Colburn, who was married for less than two years to philanthropist Richard D. Colburn. They alleged in a lawsuit that she knew Pellicano was wiretapping all calls going in and out of her spouse's Beverly Hills estate for almost a year.
"This is not a victimless crime here, ladies and gentleman," plaintiffs' attorney Lawrence Segal said during closing arguments Friday. "This is something that impacts people."
Lawrence Segal and Wayne Skigen of the Beverly Hills-based law firm Segal Skigen LLP represented the plaintiffs in securing the unanimous jury verdict.
The defendant's attorney, Stanley McKiernan, countered that the plaintiffs waited too long by filing the suit in December 2007. He said the deadline to file their claims was two years earlier. He also said the case was whittled down to just two claims by the time testimony concluded.
The plaintiffs maintain they did not know someone was listening to what they thought were private conversations until someone emailed one of them a story from The New York Times about Pellicano's eavesdropping victims.
Jacqueline Colburn allegedly sought Pellicano's help in getting an edge in her divorce proceedings against Richard D. Colburn, according to the story.
Richard W. Colburn and two other children of Richard D. Colburn from a prior marriage—Carol Colburn-Grigor and Keith W. Colburn—along with Colette McDougall, former assistant to Richard D. Colburn, sued Pellicano and Jacqueline Colburn.
They alleged that in 1999 Jacqueline Colburn paid Pellicano in cash and jewelry to install remote listening devices near the philanthropist's Beverly Hills home to enable them to listen to calls going in and out of the residence with a software program called TeleSleuth.
Richard D. Colburn, who died in 2004, made a fortune in construction and endowed the Colburn School of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. Jacqueline Colburn's sister is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon.
The couple married in 1998—Jacqueline Colburn was 38 and Richard D. Colburn was 85—and divorced in 2002.
McDougall and the Colburn children believe hundreds of conversations between Richard D. Colburn, his family members and business colleagues were recorded over a period of 10 months from mid-December 1999 to early October 2000, according to the suit.
McKiernan said there is no evidence Pellicano ever conducted any wiretapping on Jacqueline Colburn's behalf.
Pellicano was convicted in 2008 of conspiracy, wiretapping and other charges and is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence. The Colburn children and McDougall are seeking a default judgment against him.