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Andrea Peyser, Columnist of the Year - September 22, 2005

YOU should have taken the deal, Russell, while you had the chance.

Russell Crowe - the telephone-tossing terror from Down Under - was offered a sweet deal to help him escape from felony charges that were leveled after he used a Manhattan hotel concierge's face for target practice in June.

Prosecutors told the Oscar-winning hothead he could plead guilty to a single misdemeanor count of reckless assault in the third degree, sources told me. No jail.

But tough-guy Crowe balked at the generous offer, because he didn't want the hassle that would result from his having to explain the conviction every time he applied for a visa to visit the United States. Crowe wants the case to be dismissed outright, or reduced to a violation.

"That's what you do," said a source. "You try to do better."

Not so fast, Cinderella Boy.

Initially after his scary tantrum, Crowe displayed fits of contrition. But no more. Last week, he stupidly told an Australian magazine that he was provoked into phone-throwing - and he suggested that if he could do the whole thing over again, he would.

And he said maybe he should just stay out of America for good.

Now lawmen aren't feeling so magnanimous.

"He's right. He should not be here. He should just stay out of Dodge," said one law-enforcement source. Asked if the plea deal was still on the table, the source replied:

"I think it depends on his demeanor. He hasn't been very chagrined."

Now, "Anything could happen. I don't think we're going to make a decision until it actually happens."

What an infantile fool.

In a performance worthy of an award - from World Wrestling Entertainment - Crowe went psycho on Mercer Hotel concierge Nestor Estrada at 4 a.m. June 6 when he had trouble calling his wife, and felt Estrada didn't care. He was charged with second-degree assault, a felony, and weapons possession, which could bring him four years in the can.

Not long after, Crowe told David Letterman he was sorry. But then, he followed that up with a curse-filled rant to The Bulletin of Australia, telling the mag that where he comes from, "If you show gentleness, you're a poof."

He also whined, inaccurately, that prosecutors dubbed him an "international menace."

"Fine, I'll just stay here [in Australia]," he pouted.

It was really Estrada's civil lawyer, Eric Franz, who negotiated a six-figure settlement for his client, who labeled Crowe a menace. Franz declined comment yesterday.

Crowe's lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, insisted the actor is truly sorry.

"He went on national television and apologized. He feels very contrite about it, and hopes to have [the case] resolved soon," said Lefcourt.

A spokeswoman for Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau declined comment. Crowe is in Australia making a movie and is due back in court Nov. 18.

Let's hope Crowe makes good on his promise to steer clear of us.

It's safer that way. For hotel workers. For bystanders. For electronics.