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Reversal of Fortune


When the police arrived around 2:15 a.m., they at first didn't even know who the driver was, beyond someone named Liz. They filtered through the club, questioning any and all girls they saw with white shirts and jeans skirts.

Allen Grubman quickly mobilized a boldfaced array of lawyers and advisers. The first call was to Manhattan's quintessential mop-up man of criminal law, Ed Hayes, who immediately put the Grubmans in touch with Edward Burke, whose father, Edward Sr., had an Allen Grubman-like power in East End matters for decades. Burke, who's not a litigator, called in the highly regarded, taciturn Stephen Scaring, a battle-hardened trial vet.

At the Sasson house that night, Burke advised Lizzie not to risk self-incrimination by filing an accident report: The most glaring initial suspicion was that alcohol played a role. But the police, who arrived almost simultaneously with Burke, sometime before 4 a.m., administered no Breathalyzer, saying later that by that point, it would have proved nothing.

Lizzie went back to her house in the early morning, to a ringing phone. She didn't sleep, and mostly didn't answer it. Hours later, she left for Manhattan, only to be called back to Southampton town court, where, on Sunday morning, she was arraigned on charges of first-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and leaving the scene of an accident. Lizzie faces the absurd total of 151 years of prison if convicted of all counts. The case is due in court September 5, though it may appear sooner, since Suffolk County district attorney Jim Catterson has been fast-tracking the investigation, pushing it toward a grand jury.

Meanwhile, the curtain was rising on one of the greatest Schadenfreude festivals in modern memory, and the strong overtones of class war made it even more irresistible. On WABC radio, fringe-left lawyer Ron Kuby suggested that Grubman should be prosecuted for a hate crime. Perhaps the most outlandish rumor was that Lizzie had hastened back to the city after a sleepless night in order to have her blood changed, à la Keith Richards.

"Allen'swhole attitude toward Lizzie is 'look, you've been a very lucky lady your wholelife. This is the test.' "

Even pre-Lizzie, class conflict had become perhaps the central Hamptons issue -- aside from real-estate prices and traffic. It's not uncommon, if you're a moneyed weekender throwing a big party on the South Fork, to get a visit from the cops before anyone even shows up. You might be doing a sound check. They might let you know that it's a little too loud, and that for a crowd like the one you're expecting, you might need some security. You might want to call some of their off-duty cop buddies, in fact. "The police out there have had problems for being rough," says one lawyer with criminal experience on the East End. "But they reflect the personality of the area. It's a very law-and-order, family-oriented county, with a heavy emphasis on hard work, very heavy emphasis on physicality. This is an area where they expect you to cooperate with the police."

One needn't talk to the plaintiff's side for long to sniff out the incipient class war. Scott Conlon, a health teacher who also coaches volleyball and soccer, has known his lawyer, Christopher Modelewski of Huntington, for years. "My client, he's just a guy," says Modelewski, with a detectable Long Island accent. "The tabloids keep talking about 'the bouncer.' He's five seven. He goes to work at these clubs in a suit. I'd probably be scarier standing in the doorway. He's a private guy. All this is not easy on him."

Modelewski worries that the media powerhouses on Grubman's side are already working to smear his client. "People are trying to say he's a money-grubber. He's a divorced father with a little girl. He's a teacher. This is a W-2 job. He makes, like, $150 a night, which is probably about how much this young lady spends to get her nails done."

The drug allegations in Conlon's suit could prove incendiary. But Conlon's team won't say what kind of drugs (though there's been no shortage of Manhattan rumors) Grubman was alleged to have been using -- and there's even some question about when she used them. "We have strong reasons to believe based on the opinions of those we interviewed that she took drugs and alcohol within eight hours of the incident," says Michael Paul of MGP & Associates, Conlon's newly hired P.R. rep, before qualifying the remark: Of course, he adds, "eight hours could mean before or after."

District Attorney James Catterson is up for re-election in November, in a tight, hard-fought race. While Catterson's spokesman, Drew Biondo, downplays the notion that politics will have any role in the case, the case is clearly being pushed hard. A grand jury could indict on any of a number of first-degree felony-assault charges. If a court believes Scott Conlon's assertion that Grubman stomped on the gas with the intent to injure, she could be convicted of multiple counts of a Class A or B violent assault, which carries a mandatory jail sentence of five years. Even some close to the Grubman camp think it's possible she'd get a year -- though she probably wouldn't have to serve the full sentence.

"These are the richest farmers in the world," says a prominent East End criminal lawyer. "These people are not 'trash,' and they deeply resent what Lizzie represents. And cars are a very powerful issue between the weekend people and the locals. With drunk driving and so forth, the authorities take it really seriously. And forget about how the D.A. feels about the issue -- Lizzie's going to have a very tough time finding a judge out here who's not going to put her in jail."

A final determination of criminal negligence may hinge on the issue of apparent intent, which even Modelewski admits could be difficult: "We can't go inside this young woman's head. I'm not a mind-reader. Neither is my client. All we can do is what the law allows us: to put out evidence and to ask a jury to make a choice."

Grubman's lawyers are hustling to construct a defense, but time was one thing Catterson wasn't giving them much of. Allen Grubman's war room was humming, with intimates like Tommy Mottola and Clive Davis and his lawyer-son Fred Davis reaching out to the family. Many in New York's power elite felt compelled to put in a call to Allen and show they were behind him, but it's proved hard for anyone to come up with any useful advice for one of the country's shrewdest legal advisers. "Everyone's logging in with a call," says an intimate. "But what do you say? Allen's the smartest guy around, and he's surrounded by all these incredibly smart people. What does he need my advice for?"

And, symbolically, at least, she'd ceded control back to her father. "What's ironic and sad is that she has spent her life trying not to be daddy's little girl, and now all she can do is cry and turn to her father," says an acquaintance, who sees a further irony. "Lizzie isn't some sort of pampered little monster," the source says. "She's not a Gucci girl. She runs around with roots always showing. She's like, 'Yeah, whaddya want?,' like she's white trash. She's not afraid to have a few flaws."

Allen Grubman, by all accounts, is not in a coddling mood. "Allen's whole attitude right now toward Lizzie is 'Look, this is what separates the men from the boys,' " says a family friend. " 'You've been a very lucky lady all your life. Now this is the test. This is where you prove you're a survivor. And I know you're a survivor.' "

This may explain why she's been so quick to go back to work. But some in the inner circle are advising Lizzie to pull back: Business is entirely secondary, and she should focus full-time on the case and on putting her life back together.

"We're really not focused on the P.R. stuff at the moment," Stephen Scaring says. "Although I realize there's great public desire for information, my view is that the district attorney is going to decide this case based on the evidence, not based on whether or not the New York Post writes up a story that portrays her as a person with some personality qualities that are negative."

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