March 30, 1998

Talk about going to the mat for your clients. Bernard Clair, who recently won fame as Jocelyne Wildenstein’s divorce attorney, was arrested last week after allegedly punching out another client’s soon-to-be-ex husband. The contretemps happened on St. Patrick’s Day in the hallway outside the courtroom of Justice Sherry Klein Heitler. Evidently displeased with the judge’s recommendation about a financial agreement, the husband began to throw a crumpled piece of paper at his wife, at which point Clair interceded, pushing the husband away and throwing a punch, according to two courthouse sources. Court officers carted Clair off to the Fifth Precinct, where he was charged with assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. His case is due to be heard on April 20. Not exactly an auspicious beginning for Clair at Rosenman & Colin, where he recently became a partner handling matrimonial business, replacing Mia Farrow’s lawyer, Eleanor Alter. But Robert Kohl, who’s on the firm’s management committee, defends his colleague vehemently, explaining that Clair was only defending his client and himself. Says Kohl: “In more than twenty years of practice, this was the first time an opponent in a divorce proceeding threatened Mr. Clair with physical harm following a conference with a judge.”

No detail is apparently too small for designers looking to share the Oscar-night limelight. Both Coach and Beverly Hills designer Kathrine Baumann have created cases to go with the state-of-the-art StarTac phones Motorola has given to high-profile actors and directors who will appear at the Academy Awards. (Never mind that the phones are small enough to fit inside almost any purse.) While the Coach cases for Bridget Fonda and Kathy Bates are simple leather, Baumann has designed more-elaborate ones (worth thousands of bucks), at Motorola’s request, to match various actors’ attire: one for Minnie Driver in garnet jersey, adorned with three sizes of Swarovski crystals and a matching fabric cord; one for Linda Hamilton in blue chiffon, with crystal bugle beads and a jeweled antenna; and one for James Cameron in black kid leather, with his initials in jet crystals. Baumann, for one, is hoping the trend takes off and makes all her hard work worthwhile: She received the assignment to create the bags only five days before the ceremony, and has since been working day and night to meet her deadline. “It certainly would be nice if someone thanked me up at that podium,” she says, laughing.

When it rains, it pours – and lately it’s been showering down on Edward Lazarus. A federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and a former Supreme Court clerk, Lazarus is attracting national attention for his book on the nation’s top court, Closed Chambers. Several other former Supreme Court clerks have expressed “outrage” over Lazarus’s book, saying that he’s “clearly trading on his time serving on the Supreme Court.” He had also been talking about moving to D.C. for a top job in the Justice Department, working under his good friend Ray Fisher, Janet Reno’s new associate attorney general, several sources say. But Lazarus took himself out of the running early on, he insists. “Ray and I basically agreed that we just needed to defer the whole question until after the book,” explains Lazarus. “Obviously I knew that this was going to be controversial, and I didn’t want it in any way to impinge on Ray.” In his book, Lazarus covers the growing politicization of the Supreme Court, particularly in connection with death-penalty cases. He also takes the occasional potshot at individual justices, calling John Paul Stevens, for example, “the FedEx Justice” because he spent as much time as possible at his Florida condo during the winter of 1988.

DOWN PAT: Patricia Duff is back. Ron Perelman’s blonde ex-to-be, who’s been keeping a low profile during her divorce battles of the past year, was spotted in the Senate dining room last Thursday afternoon, having lunch with New Jersey senator Robert Torricelli. It was a “private lunch,” said a Torricelli spokeswoman, who refused to comment further. Torricelli and Duff were also spotted at a recent dinner party in Washington, although a friend of Duff’s, when asked whether the two were becoming an item, laughed and whispered something about Pat’s frequent visits to a friend in Palm Beach.
CHAPTER AND VERSE: Shouldn’t Michael Isikoff, the Newsweek reporter who got the goods on Fornigate, be courting some astronomical book advances by now? Turns out that the idea of a book project has crossed his mind, but that was last year, when he and his pal Glenn Simpson, of the Wall Street Journal, were talking about it. Their thesis, according to a rival reporter, was that “all the Clinton scandals are traceable back to the president’s sexual compulsion.” Isikoff refused to discuss his thesis but did confirm that “we batted around some ideas about a book on the Clinton scandals,” although the pair never submitted a proposal to a publisher. And now? “I’ve gotten calls,” he says, “but right now I’m just covering the story.”

Lest anyone think New Yorkers have exhausted every possible lifestyle indulgence, Ian Schrager’s come up with one that’s new to this town: apartments with the luxury of full-service hotels. His first, the McAlpin, at 50 East 34th Street, is due to open at the end of 1999. The 700-room residence will offer hotel-style extras like a concierge, housekeeping, and room service. “A lot of people want to live outside the city but still keep a place here,’’ explains Schrager. “It’s a very easy way to live, and a concept that is very popular in Europe and Asia but has never really caught on here.’’ Philippe Starck, who designed most of Schrager’s other hotels, including the Royalton and the Delano, is at work on the McAlpin project.

Bringing culture to the masses has never been easy. Just ask Bill Viola, a renowned video artist whose large square structures, studded with video screens, are currently on display at the Whitney. Sony executives met with the Whitney after the museum proposed a Viola installation for the large public plaza of Sony’s midtown headquarters. But when Department of City Planning commissioner Joe Rose – who has jurisdiction over the plaza because it is a public space – learned of the deal, everything came to a screeching halt. “Too big and too bright,” a Whitney spokesperson says the museum was told about the Viola. The Whitney refined the project, then complied with Rose’s request that it put a proposal before the community board, but to no avail. “Rose just said no,” says the baffled museum rep. “We jumped through all his hurdles, but he kept moving the goalposts.” Many see Rose’s decision as a power play: “Rose is retaliating because he wasn’t consulted in the first place,” says one industry insider. Rose cites the piece’s size as the primary concern: “You can’t just build massive structures like that at will.” When Whitney director David Ross – leaving soon to head up the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – heard the news, “there was a lot of shouting about First Amendment rights,” says one insider. A representative for Sony calls the city’s decision “disappointing.”

Attention, clog-dancing fans: Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance does not necessarily include Michael Flatley. Several Radio City ticket buyers called the management office to complain when they learned that the oily-chested hoofer wouldn’t be appearing in the show’s five-day run at Radio City, despite the star billing. Flatley is currently in Europe starring in another Lord offshoot, explains Stan Feig, the show’s tour producer. Feig points out that even if the show’s name is misleading, the promotions, at least, were not – print ads featured a picture of lead dancer John Carey, not Flatley. “I’m sorry they feel they were misled,” says Feig.

Forget the plummeting crime rate. New York isn’t even safe for fake dogs anymore. Consider the case of Ophie, the bronze-patinated statue snatched early one recent Sunday from its home at the SoHo Grand Hotel. A security camera recorded the two thieves as they ran from the hotel, one of the men awkwardly lugging the 50-pound pooch. “It seems to me they’re pretty cowardly dognappers when they kidnap a dog that can’t fight back,” quips hotel owner Emanuel Stern. Stern so wants his statuesque pet back that he is offering a $5,000 reward and has placed a full-page ad in this week’s Village Voice (a publication owned by his father, Leonard) to help him retrieve his fake Great Dane, valued at about $30,000. “I’m trying to make the best of a situation that irks me. It was done as a prank, but we’re not treating it as a prank,” he says. He’s confident that the ad, coupled with help from the NYPD and the FBI, will help reunite Ophie with sibling statue Mona, the bronze beast the robbers left behind. Stern theorizes that the caper was perpetrated by local hooligans. “If you ask me, that dog is sitting within ten blocks of the hotel.”

Additional reporting by Kate Coyne and Connell Barrett.

March 30, 1998