Lindsay Lohan sidestepped another jail stint Friday when a California judge sent the 24-year-old troubled starlet back to rehab, telling her she was an addict and faced jail time if she relapsed again.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elden S. Fox ordered Lohan to remain at the Betty Ford Center until Jan. 3 and report back to court in late February.
"You are an addict, I hope you understand that," Fox told Lohan.
A prosecutor had advocated a six-month jail sentence for the "Mean Girls" star, but Fox opted for rehab after reviewing filings by probation and rehab officials and a letter written by Lohan.
The actress cried after hearing the sentence.
The judge acknowledged that Lohan, 24, has been in-and-out of court and rehab since a pair of high-profile arrests in 2007. He told the actress that he would not be manipulated by her, but was giving her a final chance to stay clean.
"You're staying past the New Year's — there's a reason for that," Fox said.
Fox's sentence means Lohan will not be returning to a suburban Los Angeles women's jail for a fourth time.
The judge had threatened to send Lohan to jail for 30 days for each drug test she skipped or failed. He ordered her held for nearly a month during a hearing in September, but another judge overturned his ruling and Lohan has been free on bail and in inpatient rehab voluntarily since then.
Lohan is due back in court on February 25.
Prosecutor Danette Meyers, who has handled the case since its filing, told Fox that Lohan had entered rehab for a fifth time last month only because she was afraid of going back to jail.
"The only reason she's in Betty Ford is because the court was going to send her to jail," Meyers said. "She didn't have some epiphany."
A court filing shows Lohan told probation officials last week that she didn't want to remain in an inpatient rehab facility because it would be a financial hardship. She was interviewed by officials on Oct. 14. The documents say she was advocating to leave the Betty Ford Center so she could continue to work.
The report summarizes Lohan's interview, saying she told an officer that "continued inpatient treatment would be a hardship financially, and damaging to her career."
Lohan's attorney, Shawn Chapman Holley, said her client was doing her best and that relapse was part of addiction recovery.
"I would ask the court to not punish her," Holley said. "She's trying her best. She's remaining in Betty Ford."
According to the probation report, one of Lohan's doctors told officials that until her positive drug test, Lohan was evaluating problems in her life more but remained in denial about her addiction. The doctor advocated that Lohan remain at the Betty Ford Center for as long as possible.
"He believes the defendant needs to continue to work on her issues in order to save her life," the report states.
Lohan's chemical dependency counselor told officials that Lohan finally acknowledged her addiction issues after the positive drug test and said she expressed feelings of being powerless about it.
Probation officials acknowledged Lohan is confronting her addiction more now and recommended up to four months in rehab.
Fox read Lohan's letter, then laid out the dire consequences of failure. He said Lohan was risking destroying what remains of her already damaged career.
"And if you notice all these people in the courtroom," Fox said. "There is nothing better than a trainwreck of a celebrity. Let me be clear, I am going to do exactly what the D.A. wants if you violate the program in any way, if you leave the program before and if you test positive...If you are serious about what you wrote in this letter, you are an addict. Apparently that is something you now acknowledge."
At least one acting job will be waiting for her when she is released.
She has been slated to star in a biopic of porn actress Linda Lovelace, but the project has been repeatedly delayed due to Lohan's jail and rehab stints since July.
"Inferno" writer-director Matthew Wilder says Lohan's rehab sentence won't interfere with her starring role in the film. He said production was already set to begin in mid-January.
"It looks good and we are not replacing (her)," he said Friday.
Friday's hearing was Lohan's fifth court appearance since May, when she ran into trouble with her probation for missing several weekly counseling sessions. She later spent 14 days in jail and 23 days in rehab as punishment.
Her legal woes are the result of drug and drunken driving charges being filed in 2007 after a pair of high-profile arrests. Lohan pleaded no contest to two counts of driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 percent and one count of reckless driving. She was sentenced to three years of probation, but that was later extended after the actress didn't complete the terms of her sentence in time.
Fox allowed her to be released from rehab early based on the recommendations of her doctors and laid out a path for her to be taken off probation by the end of the year. His regimen included frequent counseling sessions, meetings with probation officials and random drug screenings. It also included several incentives, including an assurance that if the actress complied with the terms for 67 days, her probation oversight would end and she would be free to move from Los Angeles.
Within weeks of her release from rehab, Lohan failed a drug test. She acknowledged the result in postings on Twitter and said she was struggling with addiction.