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On The Scene

Paul Vercammen: Downey still getting job offers

Vercammen
Reporter Paul Vercammen  


Paul Vercammen is a Los Angeles-based contributing reporter for Showbiz Reports Today, which consists of four daily live reports from New York. He has been covering actor Robert Downey Jr.'s court case stemming from his Thanksgiving weekend arrest in Palm Springs, California, last year for cocaine possession and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Q: What was the maximum sentence Downey faced in court today?

Vercammen: That changed dramatically when the California voters passed Proposition 36 last November, which was aimed at giving nonviolent drug offenders much lighter sentences and not have them clog the prisons and the courts. Under the spirit of the new law, the prosecutor says Downey was given his just deserts. In other words, he was not given any special break because of who he is.

Prosecutors characterize him as a nonviolent drug offender, not as someone who is, say, fencing stolen property or driving around recklessly in cars while under the influence.

Before passage of this law, the maximum sentence would have been around 4.5 years in prison. But under the spirit of the new law, Downey got three years probation -- including the year in a live-in rehabilitation facility that most everyone wanted for him. They think he needs to focus and work extremely hard at getting his life back in order.

Q: How will authorities monitor Downey to make sure he is not abusing drugs?

Vercammen: Effectively what happened today continues his ongoing treatment at a 24-hour live-in rehabilitation facility in Malibu. He can leave that facility only with an escort, a parole officer or a member of the facility. Downey also opted to wear an electronic monitoring device, an anklet that is supposed to help ensure he won't be tempted to do drugs again. He is being tested by his parole officer at least once a week and he is being tested randomly at the facility at least twice a week.

Q: Earlier, we saw protesters outside the courthouse. What was that all about?

Vercammen: A group of Libertarian party members demonstrated outside the courtroom. They basically were taking Downey's side, saying the war on drugs is unnecessary. One sign called the war on drugs "futile." It was not a big deal, just an opportunistic moment for them to get on camera.

Q: What is the reaction to the verdict?

Vercammen: I talked to Downey's publicist and to his parole officer on Friday, and they expected him to get this sentence. It's exactly what everyone in the Downey camp wanted -- that was to focus on the business of rehabilitation. They say he is doing very well, that he is taking his time, that he looks the best that he's looked in months and, believe or not, he is getting job offers right and left.

However, he is not going to be able to work from some time -- no timetable has been set -- even though as part of the rehabilitation process the State Department of Corrections wants him to reintegrate himself into society and begin working. It's just that in his case, working isn't going to a plant; it's going to a set and acting.

But eventually, when they say he is ready, according to his parole officer, he will work again as an actor. But no timetable has been set.

Q: Could he return to Ally McBeal?

Vercammen: The last word on Ally McBeal -- a role that earned him a Golden Globe award and for which he is now an Emmy nominee for best supporting actor -- is that he has been written off the show and will not be returning. It would take some sort of monumental shift in the brain trust of Ally McBeal to bring him back. Of course, with him at this 24-hour facility it is doubtful he will be doing any acting anytime soon anyway. The TV season begins shooting rather quickly and some of the hour-long Ally McBeal "dramedies" have started shooting. So he is missing the start of the season.

Q: Is it possible for Downey to return to acting while he is staying at the 24-hour facility?

Vercammen: If all parties agree -- including the State Department of Corrections -- that he is ready to begin acting again and that this would be healthy to his recovery process, they could conceivably start him acting within a year. But it all depends on whether the people in corrections, the people at the facility who are treating him, and Downey himself think that psychologically and mentally that he can handle it.



Greta@LAW




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