Brockovich testifies about alleged threats

The Associated Press
Sunday March 25, 2001


VENTURA — Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who has accused her ex-husband and ex-boyfriend of trying to blackmail her, said she was incensed to learn the two men were threatening to tell the tabloids that she neglected her three children. 

The 40-year-old mother, who became a household name after a blockbuster movie about her came out last year, cried Thursday as she testified in the extortion and conspiracy case against attorney John Reiner. 

Reiner represented her ex-husband, Shawn Brown, and ex-boyfriend, Jorg Halaby, and all three were arrested in a sting operation. 

Prosecutors maintain that Reiner and his clients tried to blackmail Brockovich and her boss, lawyer Ed Masry, for $310,000 in exchange for not telling the media that she was a bad mother and that they had a sexual relationship. Prosecutors later dropped charges against Brown and Halaby without explanation. 

Masry and Brockovich have denied having an affair. 

The film “Erin Brockovich,” which has been nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, tells the story of a divorced mother who helps secure a $333 million settlement against Pacific Gas & Electric for polluting ground water. 

Defense attorneys contend that Reiner thought he was involved in a legitimate business deal, and that his clients intended to get money from Universal Studios, not Masry and Brockovich. They also have suggested that Brown never meant to attack his ex-wife’s character, but rather wanted to set the record straight that he was a good father. 

Brockovich, Masry and Halaby were portrayed in the movie and received money for their rights. In their contracts, they agreed not to say anything derogatory about the film. Brown did not have a contract and was angry that he was depicted in the movie as a deadbeat dad. 

“He was very upset,” Masry testified before Brockovich took the stand. “Jorg got money, Erin got money, I got money and he didn’t get any. There’s no question Shawn wanted money from the studio.” 

Reiner contacted Universal to ask them to give Brown a contract, but the studio attorney said he was not interested because Brown was not a character in the film and was not referred to by name. 

Brockovich, who divorced Brown in the late 1980s, said the mention of her ex-husband in the film as “useless” was accurate. She testified he served time in prison twice, had a drinking problem and rarely paid child support. Brockovich had sole custody of her children and said she closely monitored their visits with Brown. 

Brockovich also testified she was worried that Brown and Halaby were dragging her children into the demand for money. 

Brockovich testified she learned Brown had told their daughter that Brockovich only got ahead by sleeping with Masry. 

“I was terrified,” she testified, that her children “were being used as pawns.”