NEW: No plea deals have been discussed yet, her new lawyer says
A Los Angeles judge sets the trial start for March 18
The actress is accused of lying to a police officer and a probation violation
A conviction could mean 245 days in jail for Lohan
Lindsay Lohan’s new lawyer has a white rabbit’s foot hanging from the handle of his Louis Vuitton briefcase.
“That’s for good luck,” Mark Heller said. “Lindsay Lohan is a great beauty with tremendous talent and I believe that all she really needs in life is a little bit of luck.”
A receptive judge, cooperative prosecutors and a good lawyer might help.
But after six drama-filled years through the Los Angeles criminal court system, starting with two drunken driving convictions in 2007, Lohan may have exhausted her supply of those.
She has appeared in court at least 20 times before four Los Angeles judges who found her in violation of probation five times and sentenced her to a total of six months in jail.
The actress faces a March 18 trial that includes charges of lying to a police officer about a car crash, reckless driving and violating her probation for a shoplifting conviction.
Lohan did face a receptive judge at a pretrial hearing Wednesday.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sautner is the same one who found her guilty of stealing a necklace from a jewelry store and violating probation two years ago. She praised Lohan for completing the terms of her sentence a year ago when she lifted her supervised probation.
Sautner retires next month, so another judge – yet to be determined – will preside over her trial.
There are two prosecutors, including one from Santa Monica, where the car crash happened last June, and another from the Los Angeles city attorney’s office, which is overseeing the shoplifting probation. While they’ve not taken a public position, several media reports – not confirmed by CNN – have said they want Lohan to spend at least six months in confinement.
Heller, who met with the prosecutors for the first time Wednesday, said they seemed to be “very much interested in serving justice.”
What would justice be in this case?
Past justice for Lohan has included less than two weeks behind bars in her six trips to the Los Angeles County jail. Measures to relieve jail overcrowding led to her release after just hours in all but one of those visits. Lohan did spend 35 days confined to her Venice, California, home. She also served about 67 days of community service, mostly working at the L.A. County morgue.
“Justice always has to be tempered with mercy and jail is not always the answer,” Heller said. “When people find themselves coming before the court, there’s usually a very serious underlying reason and cause.”
In fact, Lohan acknowledged her drug and alcohol addiction in past court appearances. She’s spent 250 days in five rehab facilities since January 2007, including one long court-ordered rehab stint after a failed drug test.
Her father has been urging Lohan to enter rehab voluntarily ahead of her trial, hoping that would satisfy the judge and prosecutors.
Heller said it was premature for him to talk about a plea deal with the prosecutors since he just got the case file Wednesday.
While her previous lawyer, Shawn Holley, entered a not guilty plea on Lohan’s behalf two weeks ago, Heller did not go as far as to suggest to reporters that she did not lie to police or violate her probation.
Lohan took the bold move of firing Holley, who steered her through her many legal troubles over the past few years.
She appeared reluctant, however, in court Wednesday when Judge Sautner asked her if she wanted to replace Holley.
“Today, yes,” Lohan answered.
Sautner approved the switch to Heller, a New York lawyer for 44 years, with the exception of a five-year suspension from practicing law for bar rules violations.
“This is not the most complex case we’ve ever seen,” Sautner said.
But it could send Lohan to jail again. Sautner warned her a year ago that any violation of the law could mean she would have to serve 245 days in jail – the remainder of her suspended sentence from a shoplifting conviction.
While critics have panned Lohan’s recent dramatic appearances as an actress – her recent portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor is exhibit A – defendant Lohan has consistently delivered drama.
She caught a late flight from New York Tuesday night to be in Los Angeles for court Wednesday morning despite sending a doctor’s note that said she was too sick to travel.
“Glad to see you’re feeling better,” Sautner told Lohan.
“Thank you,” Lohan replied.
Heller told the judge that her doctor diagnosed an upper respiratory condition. “In New York, it’s the flu,” he said.
“No, it isn’t,” said Sautner, who was an NYPD detective in a previous career. “The flu is the flu.”
Still, the judge overlooked the issue, even saying that Lohan does not have to attend future hearings or even the trial, since it is misdemeanor case.
Lohan proved she can still draw a crowd of paparazzi to court. Dozens of photographers captured her walk from the limo into the courthouse. And she was dressed appropriately for a media event, wearing a Chanel dress and her traditional red-soled Louboutin stilettos.
“She will rise to the occasion and I think she’ll be fine,” Heller told reporters.