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Celebrities get their day in court in ’08

Stargazing at Los Angeles courthouses is common, but most of the A-list celebrity justice action took place away from Hollywood in 2008.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stargazing at Los Angeles courthouses is common, but most of the A-list celebrity justice action took place away from Hollywood in 2008.

Jurors in Florida, Chicago and Las Vegas decided the fates of top celebs in criminal cases, while New York played host to the year’s messiest divorce. Los Angeles wasn’t completely left out, thanks in large part to Britney Spears.

Here’s a recap of stars who kept attorneys flush in billable hours:

What happens in Vegas ...Thirteen years after his acquittal for his wife’s murder, jurors in Las Vegas pronounced judgment on O.J. Simpson. Guilty. The conviction came after authorities charged Simpson with spearheading the robbery of a sports memorabilia dealer in a Sin City hotel room.

Attorneys for the former football great and occasional actor claim jurors were out to punish Simpson for his murder acquittal and plan to appeal his conviction. A teary apology during sentencing didn’t change his fate. For at least the next nine years, and possibly as many as 33, Simpson will spend his days at a prison 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas — just outside the glow of that city’s lights and his former fame.

An affair to rememberFormer model Christie Brinkley’s 10-year marriage to fourth husband Peter Cook may have ostensibly ended in 2006, but the couple’s weeklong divorce trial burned hotter than a heat wave. A week’s worth of testimony provided embarrassing details of Cook’s affair with an 18-year-old woman, his porn predilections and a psychiatrist’s assessment that he was “narcissistic.” Cook’s attorney likened the trial to a public flogging and, sure enough, it ended on a theatrical note. The couple settled the case after an all-nighter, with Brinkley gaining custody of her children and some property in the Hamptons. She left court carrying a dinosaur diorama she helped one of her children prepare. Cook walked away with about $2.1 million and very little dignity.

It's Britney, your honorNot all comebacks involve courtrooms and a cadre of lawyers, but Britney Spears’ sure did. The singer started out the year in meltdown but seemed better within months of a court awarding her father control of her personal and financial affairs. Along the way, Spears landed in just about every court possible: criminal, probate, family law, federal, appeals. All that to establish a conservatorship, settle a custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline and avoid a conviction on a misdemeanor driver’s license charge. The deal with Federline grants her more time with her children, and she managed to avoid further legal woes. None of this came cheap: she increased her monthly payments to Federline, paid his hefty attorney fees and continues to pay thousands of dollars a month to keep the conservatorship going. Is it any wonder her new album is called “Circus”?

Free birdThe man who belted out to audiences that he believed he could fly finally showed he would walk — on criminal charges. Jurors in Chicago acquitted R. Kelly of charges he videotaped himself having sex with a girl as young as 13. The monthlong trial ended with Kelly crying as his acquittal was read. Jurors never heard from Kelly, nor the young woman who prosecutors said appeared on the sex tape with the Grammy winner.

The taxman cometh“Passenger 57” got a new identifier in ’08 — a federal prisoner ID number. A federal jury acquitted Wesley Snipes of tax fraud and conspiracy charges in February, but found him guilty of three counts of failing to file income tax returns. Snipes stopped paying taxes in 1999, and was convicted of failing to file returns for that year and 2000 and 2001. Government prosecutors wanted to make Snipes a poster child for why paying your taxes is essential. The “Blade” actor avoided more serious penalties, but a judge sentenced him to three years in federal prison — and that was after Snipes gave the government $5 million. He was also ordered to repay the costs of his prosecution. The credits haven’t quite rolled on this one yet: Snipes is appealing his convictions and remains free on bail.