Peters’ Lawyer Challenges Morita’s Testimony

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

Testifying Thursday in trial of her sexual harassment lawsuit against Jon Peters, a former personal assistant to the filmmaker became testy and emotional when asked by his lawyer whether there were witnesses to the producer’s alleged aggression and how often she complained.

During cross-examination by defense attorney John Gatti, Shelly Morita said she was reluctant to come forward and complain about Peters’ alleged inappropriate touching and harassment because she feared the power he wielded.

“He told me he would ruin me,” Morita said. “I would never work in this town again. I was afraid.”

Also taking the stand was Morita’s predecessor in the job, Lily Moussa, who testified that although she worked long hours, her former boss treated her well and never engaged in any inappropriate behavior.

“I wouldn’t be there if he did,” she said.

Morita’s attorney, Philip Kaufler, asked Moussa whether she was being entirely forthcoming about how Peters conducted himself.

“You’re calling me a liar?” Moussa asked Kaufler.

“Yes, I am,” he replied.

During her testimony, Morita became perturbed by Gatti’s repeated use of the word “alleged” when he referring to incidents she maintains support her claim for a hostile work environment created by Peters.

“I didn’t allege anything, that’s what happened,” Morita said. “This is what happened to me.”

Morita, now 44, filed her suit against Peters and his company, J.P. Organization Inc., in December 2006 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

She maintains that he groped her at his Malibu home during portions of the time she worked from him beginning in February 2005 and ending a year later when she quit. She also claims he crawled into bed with her during the filming of “Superman Returns” in Australia and blew marijuana smoke in her face during the same trip.

Gatti asked her whether anyone else saw her boss — who denies the allegations — commit indiscretions against her. She said it was possible a housekeeper or the producer’s personal trainer, Steven Burgin, saw some of the incidents.

“I wasn’t looking around to see who was there,” she testified.

Morita said that she went to Australia reluctantly. “I didn’t want to necessarily go. I wanted Steve (Burgin) to go.”

When they reached their hotel, Peters insisted that the two of them stay in a two-bedroom suite. She said she pulled the door to her bedroom shut, but was unsure whether it had a lock on it.

She said that despite Peters’ alleged intrusion into her bed, she did not ask that her accommodations be changed before they departed Australia.

Morita said there were two other people in a car with her and Peters when he blew marijuana smoke in her face, but that she was unsure if they witnessed what happened.

“I didn’t see them turn around and look,” she said.

Back in Malibu, she said she received some temporary relief when Peters leased another home nearby his residence so that she and his other staff members could work out of it.

“Things got a little more manageable,” she said.

She also said Peters’ alleged abuse of the painkiller Vicodin became steadily worse during her employment.

“He would doze off sometimes and then he would be normal,” she said. “It was embarrassing.”

Morita also alleged the producer exposed himself to her and her daughter, who was then 2, when both were in a restroom outside a ranch Peters acquired in Santa Barbara in late 2005.

“She was on the toilet and he immediately came barging in and proceeded to unzip his pants … Then he joked about it to everybody when he walked outside,” Morita said.

Morita said neither Peters nor his business manager, Lester Knispel, deserve credit for helping her try and get hired as personal assistant to singer Christina Aguilera. At the time, she was looking for a job to get away from the alleged harassment by the producer, she said.

Morita said someone in Knispel’s office gave her the Aguilera tip and she pursued it, although she did not get the job.

Morita, a single mother who now works at a Los Angeles law firm, is seeking $1 million for emotional distress and $500,000 in lost wages, plus punitive damages. According to court records, Peters, 66, has a net worth is $75 million.

Peters, the inspiration for the character played by Warren Beatty in the 1975 film “Shampoo,” was not present in court in the morning, but was there for the afternoon session. He now lives full-time in Santa Barbara.

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