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Jewish World Review April 4, 2001 / 11 Nissan, 5761

Aron Miller

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Consumer Reports

Lawyer guilty in Brockovich extortion -- VENTURA, Calif. -- A jury has convicted an attorney of trying to extort more than $300,000 from Erin Brockovich and her boss, Ed Masry.

John Reiner, 53, was convicted Monday of two counts of attempted extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion.

Reiner was accused of trying to extort $310,000 from Brockovich, who now goes by Brockovich-Ellis, and Masry on behalf of her former husband, Shawn Brown, and ex-boyfriend, Jorg Halaby.

Prosecutors said he threatened to tell the tabloids Brockovich-Ellis and Masry had sex and she was a bad mother if he didn't get the money.

During the one-week trial, jurors heard testimony from Masry and Brockovich-Ellis, who won a $333 million settlement from Pacific Gas and Electric for Hinkley, Calif., residents whose water allegedly was tainted. Their story was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film "Erin Brockovich."

The prosecution's main evidence was a series of taped phone calls between Masry and Reiner during which Reiner initially tried to get money for Brown from Universal, the company that produced the movie.

Brockovich-Ellis, Masry and Halaby all received "story rights" deals of between $75,000 and $100,000 from the company. Brown, whose name was not mentioned in the movie, never received such a contract.

The defense painted Reiner as an attorney simply trying to get his client some money from Universal. He called Masry because the longtime lawyer has connections, they said.

During the first phone call, which was not recorded, Reiner allegedly encouraged Masry to "have Universal see the wisdom" of giving Brown a deal. The defense said Masry misinterpreted Reiner's request and assumed he was being extorted.

Masry eventually contacted the District Attorney's Office, which set up a series of tape-recorded calls between Reiner and him. During those chats, Masry was the one who dictated the terms of the deal, not Reiner, the defense said.

Police arrested Reiner, Brown and Halaby within a few weeks. Charges against Brown and Halaby were dropped.

Superior Court Judge Vincent O'Neill Jr. is scheduled to sentence Reiner on May 3. He faces anywhere from probation to prison time, and will undoubtedly lose his law license.

Aron Miller writes for the Ventura County Star. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, SHNS