Aug. 7, 2006 -- When superstars in Hollywood get in trouble, they go to criminal defense lawyer Blair Berk for help.
In wake of being charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence for a July 28 incident where he unleashed an anti-Jewish tirade against arresting officers, Mel Gibson has hired criminal lawyer to the stars Blair Berk to lead his defense. Berk has represented celebrities such as Paul Reubens, Cameron Diaz, Lindsay Lohan and Queen Latifah and defended the drunken driving cases of the rich and famous on more than one occasion.
Berk, a Harvard Law School graduate and North Carolina native, represented former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Tracy Morgan and "Growing Pains" child star Tracy Gold after their DUI charges made headlines. In November 2003, Berk represented actress and rapper Dana Elaine Owens -- better known as Queen Latifah --on a reckless driving charge. She had failed a sobriety test and was later sentenced to an alcohol education program.
But Berk's celebrity legal work goes beyond vehicular error. Berk got a call from Ozzy Osbourne after he was accused of causing the 1984 suicide of 19-year-old John McCollum with subliminal messages through the song "Suicide Solution." She used a First Amendment defense of freedom of expression to get Osbourne's case dismissed.
Berk also took on the paparazzi in 2005 after photographer Todd K. Wallace allegedly hit a 5-year-old with his camera and pushed another out of the way to get a shot of Berk's client, Reese Witherspoon. At the time, Berk stated publicly that the tabloids need to know that "battering and endangering a child to get a picture for their magazines is criminal and not business as usual."
Witherspoon and Lohan subsequently testified for Berk in lawsuits against paparazzi.
Why Celebrities Are "Very Comfortable" With Berk
Why do so many stars put so much trust in Berk?
"Her name is always on the short list" says Alan Mayer, a crisis management consultant to celebrities.
Mayer worked with Berk when Halle Berry was accused of felony hit and run in 2000.
"It is mostly word of mouth. The entertainment industry is a very small village, especially at the top," Mayer said. "Pretty soon you build up a critical mass."
Berk and Mayer made sure that in Berry's case, she formally was accused of what Mayer calls "a more accurate charge of fleeing the scene of an accident."
"Blair knows that you don't want to try the case in the press," Mayer said. "[Berk] is without a doubt the best lawyer I have dealt with. She knows that you have the courts but you also have the court of public opinion. Blair is smart and she's tough."
Those close to Blair add that she is good with personal relationships as well as dealing with the public.
"She has a very smooth and reassuring way of dealing with people," said Saura Sahu, a criminal defense lawyer and associate of Berk at her Los Angeles law firm. "It's a combination of taking their case seriously, understands where their at, and she's upfront with them about their case. It all comes together to help them feel very comfortable dealing with her."
As famous as some of her clients may be, Berk herself shies away from the spotlight.
"She has always had a keen understanding that her own self-promotion doesn't do any of her clients any good," Sahu said.
Mayer agreed, saying that "Blair knows who she is, but her ego is under control."
What Lies Ahead For Mel
Gibson was charged with misdemeanor drunken driving and an open container. He's also facing accusations of anti-Semitic remarks in the public relations nightmare that followed his arrest, despite his multiple apologies.
In the hours before the incident, Gibson was pictured partying at Moon Shadows restaurant in Malibu, where he chatted with patrons and took pictures with female fans, arms around them and smiling.
At one point, Gibson put his head in his hands and said, "I am drunk," Moonshadows customer Kimberly Lesak told In Touch Weekly magazine.
Berk has done well for her celebrity clients in previous drunken driving cases. A no contest plea for Queen Latifah in 2003 led to a reported $300 fine and alcohol education program. Berry reportedly got 200 hours of community service and a $23,000 fine after pleading no contest to a hit-and-run misdemeanor in 2000.
"When something like this arises in someone's life it's not a very pleasant experience," Sahu said.
Gibson's arraignment in his drunken driving case is scheduled to take place September 28 in Malibu Superior Court in California.