BY BRIAN PATRICK HARMON
Lizzie Grubman became the Princess of Wails yesterday, crying for forgiveness outside a Long Island courtroom.
Amid heaving sobs, she broke a year-long silence in the Hamptons crash that now has the poor little rich girl headed for a criminal trial.
“I just want to say how absolutely sorry I am that innocent people got hurt that night,” Grubman, 31, told a crushing throng of reporters at the Suffolk County Court in Riverhead. “Please tell them and please tell their families how terrible I feel. I’ve felt this way since this happened. I’m so sorry.”
At that point, her words collapsed into heaving sobs, and she continued to bawl as her lawyers and new media adviser led her to an elevator and out of the courthouse to a waiting chauffeured car.
But Grubman’s weepy display seemed like crocodile tears to lawyers representing some of those who were injured when she backed her Mercedes SUV into a Hamptons nightclub crowd in July 2001.
Coached to cry?
One plaintiff’s lawyer suggested Grubman likely had been coached by her recently hired public relations guru, Dan Klores, who represented Sean (Puffy) Combs during his criminal trial last year. Another said he believes the apology – her first since her mea culpa in the days immediately after the July 7, 2001, crash – was an attempt to soften Grubman’s image, as well as a show of remorse for potential jurors on Long Island’s East End.
“It’s interesting her apology was made at the time a plea deal falls apart and she knows she’s going to trial,” said Anthony Gair, whose client Adam Wacht suffered a serious leg injury in the crash outside Southampton’s Conscience Point Inn.
“You’ll notice in her words that there is no taking of responsibility for an act that was absolutely her fault,” Gair said. “I wonder whether it’s directed to the victims of her actions or to a potential jury pool.”
Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Joy Watson, the special prosecutor handling the case, also was unimpressed by the apology.
“The time to express her concern was that night. She should have stuck around and rendered assistance to the victims,” Watson said.
Grubman is charged with backing the SUV into a crowd of clubgoers, injuring 16 people. She pleaded not guilty in September to a 26-count indictment that included second- and third-degree assault, vehicular assault, leaving the scene of an accident – all felonies – and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, a misdemeanor. She faces up to eight years in prison if convicted.
For months, her lawyers tried to arrange a plea bargain that would result in little or no jail time. Judge John Mullin said yesterday he will set a trial date when Grubman returns to his courtroom Aug. 16. But he noted that he is retiring before the year ends and expects to hand the case off to a different judge, which means the trial is unlikely to begin until January.
Anxious in court
Grubman, whose long blond hair cascaded over a powder blue pants suit, seemed unnerved from the time she arrived at court with an entourage of lawyers, bodyguards and friends yesterday. She was a tense figure in Mullin’s packed courtroom, waiting for her case to be called. Her lead attorney, Stephen Scaring, repeatedly urged her to relax. When she left the courtroom, Grubman, the daughter of entertainment lawyer Allen Grubman, pleaded with Scaring to let her make a statement to the press.
“Lizzie, no,” Scaring said. But Grubman persisted: “I’d like to say something, please.”
Scaring appeared uncomfortable, but said, “Okay.”
Then Grubman addressed the media, a task she normally would handle with ease in her job, and began crying.