Jacko Lawyers Censured by Calif. Bar

Jacko | Stevie Wonder | Virginia Madsen | New MP3 Player

Jacko: California Bar Punished Two of His Lawyers

Two attorneys connected to Michael Jackson have been censured by the California Bar Association in the last few years.

Brian Oxman, known on television as the self-described "Jackson family lawyer," was given a private reproval by the bar in 1998 and cited for incompetence in a complicated case involving Tito Jackson, Michael's brother. A forged declaration was at the center of the case, and Oxman — who was not charged with the forgery — was ultimately censured by the bar association.

In the other case, Thomas Montague Hall — now a partner of Michael Abrams, the new attorney representing Michael Jackson in his custody dispute with Debbie Rowe — also had a private reproval in 1998. Hall's case involved a hit-and-run accident.

Oxman's case is complicated because it involved the divorce of Tito Jackson from his wife, Dolores. In between the 1993 divorce and Oxman's 1998 censure, Dolores Jackson was found dead, mysteriously, in a swimming pool.

But according to the divorce decree, Tito Jackson owed Dolores's lawyer, Howard L. Ekerling, an attorney's fee of $5,000. When Ekerling sought to collect his money, Oxman — acting for Tito — sent along a signed declaration from Dolores's estate lawyer, David Bazil, indicating that funds were not yet available.

Only one problem: Bazil was in Europe at the time.

"I never signed it or wrote it," he told me yesterday.

It was never determined who signed Bazil's name to the declaration, but Bazil says that Ekerling immediately filed a complaint against Oxman with the bar association.

Oxman, rather than fight the allegations, "failed to cooperate with the State Bar in the investigation," according to papers obtained exclusively by this column.

Calls to Oxman were not returned, but Abrams acknowledged that he knew about his partner's censure.

"It's the lowest level of disciplinary action," he said.

Stevie Wonder: Surprise Gig at Nell's

The famed mid-'80s hot spot Nell's reopened unofficially last night, with a party for Stevie Wonder's fashion-designer wife Kai.

More importantly, it opened with Stevie playing a set of greatest hits for the small crowd of invited guests, including actress Famke Janssen, her ex-husband director Tod Williams ("The Door in the Floor"), his former-supermodel sister Rachel Williams, plus man-about-town Bruce Colley, filmmaker Robin Leacock, actor Kyle MacLachlan and music producer Narada Michael Walden.

"It was the best night of my life," said Lisa Steinmetz, the club's music booker and an investor. "I sat on Stevie Wonder's lap for like an hour!"

Stevie did tell me he would try to release his much-postponed album, "A Time 2 Love," in November. The reason for the hold-up, sources say, are the recent changes at Motown/Universal Records.

Meantime, downtown at Joe's Pub, Marc Cohn ("Walking in Memphis") and inspirational author Marianne Williamson were among those who turned up to see the first of Julia Fordham's two evenings. (She's back tonight.)

The packed audience sang along with most of the songs and even danced in the aisles. Fordham's richly textured voice is like no other in pop music these days — a rare mixture of Nina Simone and Joan Armatrading mixed with Joni Mitchell. She's also a knock-out.

And over at Ruby Falls, director James Toback celebrated the premiere of his film, "When Will I Be Loved," with stars Neve Campbell, Dominic Chianese and Frederick Weller.

Harvey Keitel, who worked with Toback and Chianese in "Fingers" some 25 years ago, stopped by to wish him well. Neve came with her brother, Christian, who's currently acting on TV's "All My Children."

The big headline: Watch for Weller, who's hot right now, to co-star in a new Broadway production of "Glengarry Glen Ross" next spring with Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber. Joe Mantello will direct.

Virginia Madsen Makes a Sideways Move

Maybe the most stunning thing about Alexander Payne's new movie, "Sideways," is the resurrection of Virginia Madsen.

The beautiful, quirky blonde started in films 17 years ago with a lot of promise. But then bad personal-life decisions and endlessly awful B-movies turned into her a young has-been.

Her last even-passably-good films were released about seven years ago. Since then her resume reads like a tombstone for the unknown video.

And then, voilà! She appears in "Sideways" as a waitress in a Northern California restaurant who is studying botany and has an usually discerning palate for wine.

In no time, the story of Madsen's character becomes intertwined with those of Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church — who are on the latter's pre-wedding road trip — and Sandra Oh. The result is magic.

"Sideways" was adapted by Payne and Jim Taylor from a new novel by Rex Pickett that — like the pair's "Election" (novel by Tom Perrotta) — wouldn't have been published if they hadn't bought the film rights first. Are we living in a weird world or what?

Payne, who is married to Oh, directed with the same light touch he brought to "Citizen Ruth," "Election" and "About Schmidt."

Unlike those three, which are set in Nebraska, "Sideways" is located in California wine country. (Ironically we get a lot of good on-location shots of Michael Jackson's home areas of Los Olivos, Solvang and Santa Maria — but treatment far more to the liking of the Chamber of Commerce.)

Madsen doesn't give the only strong performance in "Sideways," but she is the revelation. Giamatti and Haden Church, the main players, are like an Oscar and Felix for the new millennium. Expect them each to get a lot of awards attention, especially Giamatti, who has refined on-screen depression and self-loathing (or awareness, I'm not sure which) into an art form.

Haden Church, known for the TV shows "Wings" and "Ned and Stacey," is surprisingly good as well. Like Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown," he plays the last part of the film sporting a huge bandage on his proboscis and makes the most of it.

Sandra Oh — oh, what can you say about her? Her small part is so well-defined she makes you imagine a whole other movie is going on featuring just her.

"Sideways" will be a hit, and it's a welcome bit of intelligence in a year so far not exactly brimming over with smart stuff. Fox Searchlight, natch, is releasing it, but not before Payne's piece closes the New York Film Festival.

New MP3 Player

For the last week or so, I've been testing Creative Labs's new Zen Touch MP3 player, which can be found on the company's Web site —www.creative.com — or at www.amazon.com. It's similar to Apple's iPod in weight and price, but differs in one respect: It sounds better.

Not to knock the iPod — everyone loves it — but the Creative Zen Touch has a built-in equalizer that you can customize and several different pre-sets to choose from as well (disco, jazz, acoustic, rock).

The result is a very warm and inviting sound even from those little pluggy earphones that come with it. The Zen Touch also has a neat device on the front — a kind of slide-touch thing — designed to compete with Apple's wheel.

Over the weekend we tested everything from Schumann to Aimee Mann to the Beatles and the Talking Heads on the Zen Touch, all of which came through with astonishing immediacy.

Fiddling with the customization gets to be an obsession to see how much bass, treble, etc. the little player can take. My guess is once you've picked it up you won't put it down again.

By coincidence, the New York Post ran a big feature on Creative's new portable video player on Sunday. This would seem like the company to watch in the coming year. Nice stuff, and priced to sell.