[UPDATED with Defense Response:] Pierce O'Donnell, LA Super-Lawyer, Appears Prison Bound
"We are pleased with today's resolution. From the outset of this case, we have been seeking to get the charges reduced to misdemeanors. As acknowledged by the prosecutors, the ultimate sentencing is totally in the discretion of Judge Otero."
ORIGINAL POST, AUG. 4, 4:24 P.M.: Pierce O'Donnell--a prominent Los Angeles attorney known for representing Art Buchwald in the Coming to America lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, extracting more than $100 million from BP Arco in a pollution case and for serving as Newport Beach's "special airport counsel" in talks that led to John Wayne Airport's 10-year lease in the 1980s--appears headed for the federal pen.
He pleaded guilty today to making illegal contributions to presidential candidate John Edwards in 2003, under a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles that is expected to fetch the super-lawyer a six-month prison stretch.
United States District Judge S. James Otero will decide at a Nov. 7 sentencing hearing whether to accept the deal that has O'Donnell pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of making "conduit contributions" during a federal election campaign. In exchange, the litigator would serve six months in federal prison, pay a $20,000 fine and perform 200 hours of community service. Otero also has the option of setting aside the plea and simply imposing a sentence.
O'Donnell, who himself ran for Congress 30 years ago, specifically admitted that he reimbursed 10 people who each made a $2,000 contribution to the presidential campaign--thus the term "conduit contributions." The campaign was not named in the federal indictment because it is not suspected of having been in on the illegal contributions, but O'Donnell is reported to have supported Edwards.
"As an experienced attorney and former candidate for the United States Congress, Pierce O'Donnell should have been well aware of federal election laws concerning campaign contributions," U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. says in a statement from the agency. "Instead, Mr. O'Donnell chose to circumvent the laws designed to maintain transparency and shed light on the campaign process."
The federal charges against O'Donnell had previously been dismissed, but they were reinstated last year by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, our sister paper LA Weekly reported in March that the State Bar of California suspended O'Donnell for his 2006 conviction for pulling the same routine in former Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn's unsuccessful reelection campaign. O'Donnell's employees donated to Hahn, and O'Donnell secretly paid them back. The LA City Attorney later charged O'Donnell with 26 counts of using a false name in making political contributions, and O'Donnell eventually pleaded no contest to five counts.