LOS ANGELES – Lindsay Lohan avoided the pokey this week, thanks in part to her new lawyer, Mark Heller, who appeared by her side in court on Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing on a probation violation charge.
The New York-based attorney and longtime associate of the Lohan family began speaking on behalf of the troubled actress in November, when she ran afoul of the law in New York City, and officially took over her legal reins earlier this year after Lohan unceremoniously dumped court ace, Shawn Holley.
But FOX411's Pop Tarts column has learned that even though Lohan told Judge Stephanie Sautner she was “okay” with the switch, it seems some members of her inner circle had cold feet on the change the evening before.
An inside source says a Lohan confidante was trying to contact Holley as late as Tuesday night and put her back on the case, but was rebuffed.
“Shawn is absolutely done. She was incredibly hurt after five years with Lindsay, how it all went down in the end. It was a huge betrayal, she did really care and would take her calls night and day,” said the insider, adding that Sautner’s decision to grant Heller temporary permission to handle the case in California – despite not being licensed to practice in California – was perhaps a “favor” to Holley so that she wouldn’t be brought back into the fold and required to appear in court again.
On that note, Lohan herself almost didn’t show her face in court on Wednesday either. Heller had previously filed a doctor’s note stating that she was suffering from an upper respiratory infection that prevented her from flying, but on the same day she sought medical intervention, Lohan was TMZ pap-snapped shopping around the New York City without any noticeable health problems.
We’re told a “strong warning” was issued on Tuesday that Lohan needed to turn up, or else a warrant would likely be issued for her arrest. The 26-year-old quickly jumped on a cross-country flight Tuesday night, and consequently arrived the following morning at the court house (five minutes late) bleary-eyed and donning designer duds.
“I’m glad to see you’re feeling better,” Sautner said.
Her courtroom cameo may have saved Lohan from the clink, with Sautner instead revoking her probation and setting another pre-trial hearing for March 1 and a trial date for March 18, but the judge was less than impressed with Heller’s attempt to woo her.
“Flattery doesn’t get you anywhere in this court,” she shot back after the Manhattan man reminded her that they had a connection as she was once a New York-based detective.
Sautner wasn’t the only one not buying it.
“Mark (Heller) acted like a novice playing for the cameras. That kind of thing just doesn’t work in this state,” a legal insider quipped. “That kind of thing is not going to necessarily backfire on Lindsay, but it’s not going to help her either.”
As official court protocol, it is required that Heller be “sponsored” by a West Coast attorney, and attorney Lindsay Berger Sacks stepped up to the plate at the last minute to do just that. According to TMZ, she was admitted to practice in 1994 and became an inactive member of the bar two years later. However just three days before Heller filed legal documents to represent the “Liz & Dick” star, she reactivated her membership.
So who is this man now heading up Lohan’s legal team?
According to the New York Times, Mark Heller – said to be in his late 60s – was one of the first in his industry to enter the “crackling-paper scrum of the Yellow Pages,” taking out full-page advertisements offering “complete legal services” and aggressively marketing his services in the 1980s. But the sudden swell of business reportedly caused its own swell of internal problems and in January 1993, the departmental disciplinary committee for the Appellate Division’s First Judicial Department charged Heller with “deceit, puffery, abusive treatment of clients, fee gouging, neglect and willful failure to return unearned retainers to clients, and he was subsequently disbarred for five years.
During the suspension period, Heller reportedly undertook volunteer work at Lenox Hill Hospital and at the Mary Manning Walsh Home. And at his reinstatement hearing, he reportedly testified that he had paid back more than $70,000 to clients and wrote an apologetic letter.
But both before and after the disbarring, Heller was involved in a wide variety of cases, and is no stranger to Hollywood associations, or jumping states for that matter. In 2009 Heller was hired to represent Jon Gosselin of TLC’s “Jon & Kate Plus 8” fame in his bitter divorce battle, and received sponsorship to the bar in Pennsylvania where the family resided. However, according to the New Yotk Times, Gosselin’s lawyers were victorious in arguing that he violated Pennsylvania’s rules requiring applicants to list every time they had been disbarred or disciplined, and he was thus demoted to sitting with the general public in court.
Heller also represented the base-jumper who tried to parachute off the Empire State Building in 2010, and in 2008 represented former Manhattan madam Kristin Davis, although that reportedly ended badly after she fired him from her jail cell. Davis even took to her blog to write Lohan an open letter last year, urging her not to follow in her own “wrong choice” footsteps.
And a big question still remains: Does a New York lawyer have what it takes to successfully maneuver Lohan through her latest slate of West Coast woes?
“There are some major differences between California and New York criminal law. If a New York lawyer comes here to handle a case, he needs to be fully familiar with California law and the rules of our courts. There can be a steep learning curve for some lawyers,” cautioned Laurie Levenson, Professor of Law, the David W. Burcham Chair of Ethical Advocacy at the L.A-based Loyola Law School. “It is not that rare for judges to grant permission for lawyers from other states to participate in criminal cases. Judges generally want to accommodate the preferences of the defendant who has hired the lawyer. However, most California defendants will naturally want a California lawyer to represent them.”
Prominent California-based bail bondsman Josh Herman didn’t mince words.
“Basically California lawyers don’t get along with New York lawyers. It’s a totally different mentality and totally different ballgame,” he said. “And charming a Judge definitely won’t work.”
Custodial coach Wendy Feldman suggested Heller hire a co-counsel, someone local who could also work on the case, but given Lohan’s emerging IRS and financial problems, and widespread murmurs that Holley is still owed a big chunk of money, there is a question of whether she can afford two attorneys.
The month of February could be crucial to Lohan's fate. She is facing 245 days in jail if it is determined that she violated probation when she lied to police following a Pacific Highway car crash last summer. And it appears as though both Heller and his high-profile client have their work cut out in devising an action plan, and keeping Lohan out of further trouble, ahead of their March 1 court date..
“I think the new lawyer needs to become fully familiar with Lohan's case and the applicable law. He also needs to make sure that he doesn't try to represent Lohan by schmoozing the judge, as opposed to making persuasive arguments,” added Levenson. “It would be helpful to have any California members of the team work closely with him on the case. They have big shoes to fill. Shawn Holley is a heck of a lawyer.”
Heller and a rep for Lohan did not respond to a request for comment.