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CASES AND PRESS

SUIT VS. CROWE TO FLY.

BY WILLIAM SHERMAN DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER - Tuesday, June 28th 2005, 6:46AM

"CINDERELLA MAN" STAR Russell Crowe is expected to get hammered this week with a massive lawsuit that will provide a blow-by-blow account of his alleged June 6 telephone rage assault against a downtown hotel clerk.

The suit will charge that Crowe hurled a ceramic bowl at Mercer Hotel clerk Nestor (Josh) Estrada after hitting the 28-year-old Brooklyn man in the face with a thrown phone - an attack captured on video, according to sources familiar with the incident.

The bowl shattered against a wall near the clerk's head, according to the sources. After the predawn explosion - witnessed by two other employees at the SoHo hotel - Crowe took a deep bow and assumed a karate stance, the sources said.

The Academy Award-winning actor has apologized for blowing up at Estrada after being unable to get a call through to his wife in Australia. But brief settlement talks went nowhere, and Estrada is set to file suit this week.

Much of Crowe's lobby act was captured by a hidden security videotape camera, the sources said.

That tape is now in the possession of the Manhattan district attorney's office, which has charged Crowe, 41, with felonious assault and criminal possession of a weapon. The "Gladiator" star could face seven years in prison, if convicted

Crowe's high-profile attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, declined to comment on the case or the pending lawsuit except to say, "Russell Crowe went on three national television programs apologizing for the incident and making amends and he is trying to put it behind him."

Estrada's attorney Eric Franz would say only, "I'll do my talking through the legal process."

The lawsuit, to be filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, will seek unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. It will also detail Crowe's past blowouts.

Sources said the suit is expected to include this chronology in the Mercer Hotel incident:

Shortly after 4 a.m., an apparently jet-lagged Crowe, in town to promote "Cinderella Man," became frustrated when he failed to reach his wife.

He complained to the hotel desk several times, finally demanding the clerk's name. "Josh," said Estrada, who goes by his middle name.

"I'm coming down to see you," said Crowe, cursing at Estrada, according to those familiar with the incident.

A few minutes later, Crowe appeared in the lobby with his room phone in hand asking for Josh, as the two other clerks looked on aghast.

Estrada identified himself and Crowe, grasping the phone over his head with two hands, hurled it at him as if he were making an inbounds pass in a soccer game.

The clerk was knocked to the floor by the blow. Crowe then picked up the ceramic bowl and threw it, turned around, bowed and assumed the karate stance, according to witness accounts.

Meanwhile, Estrada scurried out a nearby door and dialed 911. Police arrived shortly after and arrested Crowe, who spent the rest of the night behind bars.

Sources in the Crowe camp who requested anonymity noted that Estrada suffered a 1-inch gash on his right cheek, but no permanent damage.

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