Mel Gibson ended his legal hangover Thursday, pleading no contest to a charge of drunken driving under a deal in which he’ll serve three years’ probation, pay a fine and attend alcohol rehabilitation classes.
His lawyers arranged to move his court appearance up by more than a month, allowing Gibson to avoid a media frenzy with his plea. But he still faces the fallout from the anti-Semitic tirade he unleashed on a sheriff’s deputy the night of his arrest.
Gibson did not have to appear in court in the misdemeanor case, allowing attorney Blair Berk to handle the plea.
The abrupt advancement was announced to the news media by the district attorney’s office with no time for most reporters to reach the courthouse before the proceeding was over.
Court documents showed that Gibson signed the plea agreement and waived his right to a jury trial Monday but that the paperwork was filed just before Thursday’s proceeding.
Gibson was stopped around 2:30 a.m. July 28 while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and made anti-Semitic remarks to the arresting deputy, plunging Gibson into a scandal that led him to apologize for what he called “belligerent behavior” and “despicable” remarks.
Gibson pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor of driving while having a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher. A second misdemeanor count, driving under the influence of alcohol, and the infraction of driving with an open container of alcohol were dismissed.
A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is equivalent to a guilty plea for sentencing purposes.
‘An appropriate outcome’
“This was an appropriate outcome which addresses all the public safety concerns of drinking and driving,” prosecutor Gina Satriano said in a statement.
Authorities continued to withhold video and audio tapes of Gibson’s arrest. Media organizations including The Associated Press have asked Sheriff Lee Baca for the tapes but have been denied on grounds that they are part of an “investigatory file” and exempt from the California Public Records Act.
The celebrity news Web site TMZ has argued that the tapes should be heard and seen by the public to assess whether the Sheriff’s Department gave Gibson preferential treatment. The issue arose because a sheriff’s spokesman initially said the arrest occurred “without incident” and made no mention of the anti-Semitic remarks.
Asked whether tapes and other materials would be released, Baca said, “I’m looking at that right now ... so I’ve got to go back and look at everything that was there.”
Court documents said Gibson has already voluntarily begun rehabilitation.
The documents show the judge placed Gibson on three years’ probation and ordered him to attend “self-help meetings” five times a week for 4½ months and three meetings per week for another 7½ months. Satriano said these would be Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, according to Jane Robison, a district attorney’s spokeswoman.
Gibson was also ordered to complete a three-month alcohol education and counseling program for first offenders.
The judge also levied fines and fees totaling $1,608. Gibson’s driver license was restricted for 90 days, the district attorney’s office said. Robison did not know the terms of the restriction.
Gibson volunteered to make a public-service announcement about the hazards of drinking and driving, but the judge did not make that a condition of his sentencing.
Gibson was ordered to appear in court Jan. 17 for a progress report.
Gibson’s spokesman, Alan Nierob, would not elaborate on the plea arrangement or offer any hints about when to expect Gibson’s public-service announcement.
The case file also showed that the original judge assigned to hear the case, Terry Adamson, recused herself because Gibson is one of her neighbors.