Skip to main content /transcript




Robert Downey Jr. to Enter Plea Agreement on Drug Charges

Aired July 16, 2001 - 11:31   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: In 1987's "Less Than Zero," actor Robert Downey, Jr. played a cocaine addicted party boy. Well, now his behavior in real life has him in court this morning answering to drug charges once again. For the latest let's go down to CNN's Paul Vercammen who's standing by live in Indio, California outside the courthouse. Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, momentarily they will begin here. And as we've told you all morning long, Downey is expected to enter that plea of no contest and that will basically allow him to avoid prison time and continue his rehabilitation in a Malibu treatment facility.

Daryn brought up earlier that sometimes you need a score card to try to keep up with Downey. Well, here's what happened. There was scenario where Downey's previous legal team was going to bitterly fight the charges that stem from his arrest here in Riverside County in Palm Springs over Thanksgiving weekend.

And just a recap, you may recall there was this disputed 911 call that came from an individual who said that there was someone in a room who had drugs and guns. And then there was a lot of talk from Downey's legal team at the time that there was no real probable cause that the guns had caused the authorities to go to the hotel while they otherwise would not have. And they were going to battle this thing tooth and nail.

There was also another charge out and that was later dropped and that was possession of Valium. Right now it's just the two counts, which are possession of cocaine and being under the influence under -- of a controlled substance. That's a misdemeanor. And those are the two counts that Downey's expected to plead no contest to.

And as we said earlier, the prosecutor walked into the room and she said she'd absolutely be shocked if things did not resolve themselves today. Her name, of course, is Tamara Capone. She has long said that here in Riverside County she settles about 60 percent of these drug cases. That is the trend in California. Basically the idea is they do not want a lot of non-violent drug offenders clogging up the courts, clogging up the prison system so basically they come in and they try to settle the cases.

And in trying to talk to the prosecutors including prosecutors in other counties, one thing you have to remember about Downey, he is not the type of repeat offender who winds up before a judge five times a year, 10 times a year. Of course, he has the means basically to purchase the drugs and he does get in trouble but there are repeat offenders who are found fencing stolen items, who are out basically burglarizing to try to feed their habit. And what everyone has said in this case including his own parole officer is he's not a threat to anybody but himself. He is not a guy who has been arrested multiple times for driving under the influence of a control substance -- that sort of thing.

So that is why the mood here seems to be that basically they need to get this guy into the rehabilitation facility, which they have done -- the state's Department of Corrections has done -- and keep him there for a good long time.

And speculation as to when Downey might be able to return to work as an actor in a movie or a film, well, they say that is still a long time off and he needs to continue to be very serious about his rehabilitation process.

Also his parole agent said that he did something unique. Downey volunteered to wear an ankle brace, an electronic monitoring device. This was Downey's idea. He thought it would just help him in case he was ever tempted again.

So basically we'll just wait here for the beginning of these proceedings and for Robert Downey, Jr. to answer that no contest plea. Leon, Daryn?

HARRIS: All right, thanks a lot. Paul Vercammen reporting live this morning from Indio, California.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Very good. And we'll have Paul stand by to wait for those proceedings to start. And while we do let's bring in our legal analyst Roger Cossack who is standing by in Washington. Roger, good morning.


KAGAN: Let's start with the basics here with our legal lesson. As Paul was reporting we expect Robert Downey, Jr. to plead no contest. What does that mean?

COSSACK: Well, no contest is a way of saying, "Look, I didn't do it. And -- but I'm not saying I did do it. I'm just entering a plea of no contest, which means I choose not to fight the charges." In criminal law a plea of no contest is considered like a guilty plea. It usually means if there's a civil lawsuit you can't use the plea against you in a civil lawsuit but it's like -- I think what lawyers call it is it's a way of doing a slow plea. That is, "I'm not saying I did it, I'm not saying I didn't, I'm just saying I choose not to fight it." Which, in effect, is different but the same as a guilty plea.

KAGAN: And then as a former prosecutor what would that encourage you to give up in terms of a plea bargain?

COSSACK: Well, this is a case which is pretty well set out. I mean, Proposition 36 was passed by the California voters in that they just made a policy decision and they said, "Look, we would much rather in a sense house these non-violent drug offenders in rehab places -- in rehab centers -- than house them in a prison. It just costs too much money, it clogs up the prison, it clogs up the courtroom system."

So when you have someone like Downey who, as Paul just pointed out, is a non-violent individual whose main problem is that he just can't stay away from drugs but is not out committing burglaries or crimes but is just an abuser of drugs, this is the kind of case that is just perfect for what the voters of California said. They said, "Look, let's just put this guy in a rehab center and keep him in a rehab center rather than put him in a prison."

KAGAN: So a lot of people might look at somebody like Robert Downey, Jr., Roger, and say, "Here he is, a rich actor, a celebrity. He's getting off so easy." But actually what you're saying is somebody like him is -- would actually be treated just like this in terms of getting steered toward rehab rather than toward the prison system under what California's trying to do right now?

COSSACK: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I would argue that probably if not for Proposition 36 they would have thrown the book at Robert Downey, Jr. You know, it's not -- he has gone to prison in the past and I think that these prison sentences would have just started mounting up with him. But because of Proposition 36, which takes this position that says, "Look, non-violent drug abusers are more of a threat to themselves than they are to society. And what the downside is is what they do to our court system and what they do to our prisons. We would much rather have them housed in a rehab center than housed in a prison."

And that is why he is getting what's going to happen to him today, which is he is going to be sentenced to a term of probation of which he has to stay in a rehab center. And as long as he doesn't commit violent crimes or -- like a burglary or a robbery or something of that nature he will -- I hope this is the last one for Robert Downey but if he continues to do it this is where he'll continue to get sent back to. KAGAN: Well, and of course, though, with the prison sentence Robert Downey, Jr. can say, "Been there, done that." He spent a fair amount of time in the state prison system in California.

COSSACK: Yes, but there's not much -- there's not much he can't say...

KAGAN: That's true.

COSSACK: ... "been there, done that," too.

KAGAN: That's true.

COSSACK: I mean -- you know, this isn't the first rehab center that he's been to also. This is a guy -- and I think that people have to understand -- this is a guy who's just an addict. And I don't mean to deem or to say "just an addict" but an addict is just a different type of person than the rest of us. That's why all those things that make so much sense just don't seem to make much sense to Robert Downey, Jr. I mean, you want to shake this guy and say, "What part of life don't you get?" But it's something that is clearly something he cannot control.

KAGAN: Roger, talk us through a little bit about what we just saw just happen. Clearly Robert Downey, Jr. is sitting there by himself now in the courtroom. All of the lawyers -- I think the prosecutor and the defense attorney got up and went into a room behind closed doors.


KAGAN: What would you suspect is happening right now?

COSSACK: Yes, those are the judge's chambers. I would suspect that is the judge's office. And what's going on back there now is a discussion about what's going to happen in the future -- make sure that everyone is in agreement.

The judge is going to say, "Now it is my understanding that there is a plea agreement in this case -- that Mr. Downey will enter a plea of no contest. In return I will follow the dictates of Proposition 36 and sentence him to a certain period of time in a rehab center. Is that what everybody understands?"

And the prosecution will say, "Yep, we're on board for that." and the defense will say, "Yes, that's where we're on board. And we plan on sending him to this rehab center." And the judge will say, "Is that what you understand," to the prosecutor. And the prosecutor will say, "Yes."

And the judge also wants to make sure that he is doing what both sides want. If one of the sides said, "No, I don't want to do that." Then there would be a discussion about what could -- what else could happen in the future.

KAGAN: So why isn't the defendant -- why isn't Downey back there with his lawyers listening to all of this?

COSSACK: Well, you know, that's a good question. Theoretically he is certainly entitled to be back there at all stages of the preceding and to listen to this. But I think this is one of those things that is better off done just between the lawyers on both sides and the judge. And I think Downey has been advised to just wait outside for a few minutes until they come back outside from visiting with the judge.

KAGAN: OK, Roger, we are getting word that we expect perhaps Chandra's Levy's father might be coming out and making a statement to the media. If, in fact, he does that and we have had warnings like this before but if, in fact, Dr. Levy does come out and make a comment you will see that live here on CNN.

Meanwhile we do continue our coverage of Robert Downey, Jr.'s hearing in Indio, California. Roger, another question about this Proposition 36. I believe -- and Paul can pipe in with this, too -- it was passed by California voters back in November. Is it considered pretty cutting edge for how to handle repeat drug offenders in terms of how other states are handling this situation across the country?

COSSACK: I would say this that it is on the front line of what -- of a policy decision that is being made by some states and eventually is going, I think, have to be forced -- many states are going to be forced to decide something somewhat similar. There is unfortunately in this country many, many people who are arrested for drug abuse, who, like Robert Downey, Jr. their main -- or their main victim is themselves. And therefore the question these states have to decide is what do we do with these people who are merely possessors -- illegal possessors and illegal abusers? Are they criminals, number one? And if they're not -- or is it a medical problem or a social problem? And if it is that, should we put them in prison or should we put them in a place where they can get treatment?

And finally, there was the fiscal aspect of this. These people were clogging prisons and clogging the court systems so that other things -- more important one could argue -- kinds of crimes -- just were getting put on the back burner or not being heard at all.

KAGAN: OK, Roger, you stand by. Paul, let's bring you in here. Talk about the timeline. As I understand it Proposition 36 would have passed in early November. And didn't the incident which brings Robert Downey, Jr. to this California courtroom today happen around Thanksgiving just a few weeks later?

VERCAMMEN: Well, this is actually not qualifying for that Proposition 36 timeline because as I understand it, it was to go into effect July 1. But all along and from the very outset the prosecutors in this county have said, "We have to follow the spirit of the law." So they are basically treating Downey under the spirit of the law.

And also I might want to reiterate, as I said to you before here in Riverside County Tamara Capone says she settles some 60 percent of these cases. So I don't think there was every a very hard line attitude here. I think this county and many counties in California have long said that they would much rather go ahead and settle --and we use that term "clogging the courts and clogging the prisons" than end up with all of these non-violent offenders in courtrooms and in prisons.

So not only does Proposition 36 further re-emphasize that, they already had similar attitudes in place and they had been settling cases under a drug calendar, so to speak, for a long time here in this county, Daryn.

KAGAN: Got it.

COSSACK: Daryn, if I could just jump in...

KAGAN: Go ahead.

COSSACK: ... a second.

KAGAN: Sure.

COSSACK: What Paul is saying -- he's absolutely right that in terms of when the law went into effect Proposition 36 probably doesn't include Robert Downey, Jr. But once the people in the State of California pass a law -- pass a resolution like Proposition 36 it's clear what the people want. And it would be out of step, therefore, for a prosecutor to say, "Well, just because this doesn't happen until July." I mean, they were talking about people like Robert Downey, Jr. when they passed this law so it's clear that he should be included. I would think it would be -- it wouldn't be illegal for the prosecutor to say, "No, we can't do it." But it certainly would be out of step with what the people voted.

KAGAN: You might say "the people have spoken." We await the judge to speak. The attorneys still behind closed doors with that judge. Our coverage of Robert Downey Jr. in that California courtroom will continue. Stay with us, we'll be back after this break.


HARRIS: Continue our coverage of Robert Downey, Jr.'s day in court. You see him there seated there alone -- by himself at the table there facing the judge. The lawyers in this case are actually in chambers with the judge discussing some matter of -- pertinent to this case we assume. And we'll get to the live coverage of that in just a moment.

But after dropping out of high school a young Robert Downey, Jr. wanted to pursue an acting career full-time. He moved back to the East Coast to live with his mother. And it's there that CNN's "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" tells the story of an inspiring actor and his quest for stardom.


SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 1983, on the set of "Firstborn," he met a striking 18-year-old girl. Her name, Sarah Jessica Parker. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FIRSTBORN")

DOWNEY: Hey, come on, Jake. An accident, Jake. An accident.


COLLINS: They had a lot in common. Besides their lines together, they were both the same age and both new to acting. A romance sparked between the young couple off the set.

MICHAEL FLEEMAN, CORRESPONDENT, "PEOPLE": They lived together for several years in New York. He was a young struggling actor, she was a young struggling actress, and he said, amazingly, you know, they were able to get along despite his problems. He was using drugs at the time. I mean, he was still part of the party scene and everything.

COLLINS: But after making just one movie, Downey made a jump to the small screen and to comedy. In 1985, he joined NBC's "Saturday Night Live," the popular comedy sketch series. He was a regular cast member for one season.


DOWNEY: Hey, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and a shotgun for my buddy here.


COLLINS: Downey returned to films the following year, taking on a dramatic role in the 1987 movie "Less Than Zero."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: And you did it. You did it to yourself, and you know it.


COLLINS: He played the troubled Julian, an out-of-control addict who fights to kick his drug habit.

FINE: How much of his personal life did he bring to that character? Probably quite a bit, you know. You root for him. It's the clown who suffers, and under the smile there's a pain, and you get that from him. So he's got a vulnerability that makes you like him, that makes you root for him.

COLLINS: Off screen, Downey had developed his own serious cocaine problem. Shortly after completing the movie, he entered a rehab facility for substance abuse. In addition to his drug addiction, Downey had to deal with the on again-off again relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker. But as his personal life was in limbo, his career was coming together.


DOWNEY: Hi. My name's Jack Jericho.


COLLINS: Later that year, Downey landed his first leading role, playing a charming womanizer in "The Pickup Artist," directed by James Toback.

JAMES TOBACK, DIRECTOR: And he walked into my office at Fox on 57th Street and literally a minute after we started talking, I said, "By the way, you want to play the lead in this movie?" And he said, "Sure."

He made you like him immensely without trying.


DOWNEY: So he wasn't killed, he was maimed.


COLLINS: He received praise for his role as the manic soap-opera producer in "Soap Dish."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You do want me, don't you, David?

DOWNEY: In the weirdest way.



COLLINS: As "Soap Dish" wrapped, so did his seven-year relationship with Sara Jessica Parker. He soon fell in love again, this time with model Deborah Falconer. The two married in May 1992 and had a son, Indio, a year later.

At age 27, with stability in his personal life, Robert Downey Jr., prepared for the role that propelled him to Hollywood's A-list, "Chaplin."


DAN AKROYD, ACTOR: The guy I hired did the best comedy drunk I ever saw, but he was old. I don't pay 100 a week to juveniles.



DOWNEY: He was supported by, you know, by something beyond. It's almost like, how do you play a better person than yourself? Not better, but let's just say a -- you know, someone who is -- who walked the walk for his whole life.



RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH, DIRECTOR: We now have the opportunity of what Charlie introduced to little children...


COLLINS: Director Richard Attenborough hired Downey for the role.

ATTENBOROUGH: You had to have somebody who had this passion, this driving passion to do what he wanted to do, and you had to believe there was a mind behind the eyes. The camera, when it comes in close and it's in here, you can't deceive the camera.

COLLINS: Robert Downey Jr. was at the pinnacle of his career. He received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in "Chaplin." But away from the cheers and the cameras, he continued to be drawn to life in the fast lane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read this article where you were quoted as being this bad boy of Hollywood and party-goer and this whole -- where is this guy?

DOWNEY: Oh, he's around, you know, and he'd be happy to jump back in at any time. I would just say that, you know, how long can danger work, you know? It ain't over till it's over. I hope it's over.


HARRIS: Interesting. Now you see the live picture we have here of Robert Downey, Jr. in court still, again, as we were saying, waiting for things to get underway.

Let's go down to our Paul Vercammen who's standing outside that courtroom in Indio, California. Paul?

VERCAMMEN: Well, listening to that last report, Leon, and thinking about Downey, he might be wondering about his current state of health. And here's what his parole agent told me. He said that Downey is doing very well in his recovery process and that he's been very serious about it, that he's in a 12 step program and that he is going very slowly. Apparently someone can go through the program rather quickly to some degree but he says Downey is taking his time with each step and that he's able to focus in his current treatment facility.

Also he is being tested by the parole officers once a week and randomly tested twice a week by the facility. Has he been out and about? Yes, there have been some Downey sightings in Hollywood. He's allowed to leave for, let's say, counseling, for medical visits and he has had on several occasions a visit with that son that you alluded earlier, his son, Indio. Each time though, of course, he is basically with either his parole officer or someone from the rehabilitation facility. It's not like Downey is driving around Hollywood alone meeting people for lunch or that sort of thing.

Now the goal of rehabilitation and this comes from the state's Department of Corrections is to basically down the road integrate whoever back into society and to allow them to work. This is an interesting situation with Downey. Do you allow Robert Downey, Jr. at this point to go off and film a movie or film a TV show? They say that is not going to happen right now that he still needs to focus on his rehabilitation and going back to work is off in the distance.

But they do concede as part of his rehabilitation that they want him to work. They do want to see him on screen again. And, of course, he's a hot commodity. I mean, how many actors in the entire universe can say that they are a current Emmy nominee, which he is? He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work on "Ally McBeal" this past season. You may have seen the Emmy nominations on CNN.

Interesting note, however, he also has done something in Hollywood which is a cardinal sin. Because of his arrest in Culver City at the end of the "Ally McBeal" show he basically cost Hollywood money because they had to rewrite the show because they had to take him out of that episode -- all of that.

Will they forgive him? Well, this is a town where they seem to give people nine lives and perhaps he's maybe only on his fifth. I mean, Hollywood seems to love that whole hero takes a fall story and I then called his publicist.

Now we grant you this, this is a town where publicists can be a pack of very non-straight shooters, you might want to say. These are the masters, the unrepentant spin doctors. But Downey's publicist is a pretty level headed guy. He also represents Denzel Washington and Mel Gibson. And he told me that the offers are still pouring in for Robert Downey, Jr, that people call all the time wanting to know when and if he's going to be available -- that they that's something down the road that they will take on and that is the possibility of him returning to a television show and/or movies.

He hasn't burned that many bridges in this town ironically enough because he has this reputation of being a good guy on set. He doesn't have this reputation of, let's say, some guy that throws a fit and starts yelling at grips and starts demanding the blue M&Ms or wants to scream at other people. So we'll just have to see.

Behind me you might be wondering what the noise is about. There is a group of protesters. They're from the Libertarian Party. And basically they're calling for an end to the drug war. They basically do not think that non-violent drug offenders should be put in prison. So in a sense they are supporting Downey here.

So we just like you, Leon, are awaiting the proceedings here. And we'll see when and if they do begin as they are now possibly hammering out the final details of this plea bargain agreement that would continue Robert Downey, Jr.'s stay in a rehabilitation clinic. Leon, Daryn? HARRIS: Well, let me ask you, Paul, I mean, do we know at this particular point -- is it something the judge is going to nails down today whether or not Downey can actually take advantage of any of these offers that have been pouring into him while he is still in rehab?

VERCAMMEN: Well, right now, I mean, in talking with his parole officer, no way. I mean, he's in no shape or form to immediately jump on one of these offers that his publicist says he has been receiving. It's more a matter of him being completely on firm ground and being rehabilitated to the point where he is no longer, you know, a risk to himself. And the publicist concedes that that's still time a ways off and obviously corrections and Downey will have to get together and decide when he would be ready.

But back to thing about Downey's reputation, well, take Curtis Hanson, he was the director of "LA Confidential" and also "Wonder Boys" with Michael Douglas, which was a movie that received a lot of accolades last year. Hanson is a smart guy and he just adores Downey and says when he was on his set absolutely no problems. I mean, there are other actors that, fortunately for them, do not have the legacy of Robert Downey's drug problems but, you know, they can be extremely disruptive on sets and you see some projects that basically die when someone starts acting up. It's kind of swept under the carpet but from everything that we know Downey hasn't gone on a set and torn something up.


VERCAMMEN: He basically does his job. And when he works he works hard. And, you know, they say an actor's experience is obviously the well they pull from and allows them to emote. And certainly Downey has a long and sorted tale and a range of experiences that he knows all about.

HARRIS: He's pretty good at digging those wells, there's no question about that. Let me ask you something else about the candor with which the publicists you were talking about moments ago -- the guy who represents him as well as Denzel?


HARRIS: In candidly -- in candidly speaking with him can you find out -- will he tell you or does he say at all how much of this interest in Downey is being generated strictly because of the publicity that he's already received and the fact that he's now notorious and because of that he can sell tickets to almost any kind of movie or he can sell almost any television show he shows up on -- not necessarily just because he's a good guy on the set but because now he's notorious?

VERCAMMEN: Well, I think it's a snowball effect. I mean, first and foremost we cannot take this away from Downey -- he is a respected actor. I mean, he is known as being a master at his craft. He is an Oscar nominee, his is a Golden Globe winner, you know. He keeps on getting nominated right and left -- there is no doubt -- because you'll hear in this town -- you'll hear what they say about folks. I mean, there are some people who are quite famous who, frankly, you get in a closed room with somebody or they tell you off the record, they'll take a poke at them. They'll say, "Well, they're really not that good at what they do. I mean, there's 25 other, let's say, stage actors who are doing a feeder up in Wisconsin right now who are better than this person but this person has the right genetic make up on a pan and issue camera that they look pretty decent and they can get people to tune into a TV show or movie.

They have never said this about Downey. He has always been about fundamentally the ability to make people believe him and that he is a true -- and that he often plays the vulnerable character, which is life has obviously been like.

And in terms of the publicists saying, "Well, they're just trying to cash in on his notoriety." There is no doubt that some calls have trickled in there from somebody thinking, "Hey, if I get Downey on this show I have got what I want and that is guaranteed ratings." But I think most of it comes from a true respect for his acting. Back to you guys.

HARRIS: Well, he is going to have to control that ability to convince this judge because it looks like they maybe -- his lawyers have just now re-entered the courtroom, Paul. And he is sitting down talking over I guess whatever they were discussing. They have a document there. They're going over this piece of paper which has obviously got to be the plea bargaining deal that they're working on there in that courtroom. Of course, right now we have no way of being privy to any of that information.

But we will keep our eye on this and we will come back for more live coverage in just a moment. Don't go away.


KAGAN: Taking you once again to live pictures from Indio, California. To the right of the screen, you'll see actor Robert Downey Jr. standing by, waiting to enter his plea agreement on drug charges from an incident dating back to last Thanksgiving.

Our Paul Vercammen is covering this story with us. He is live in Indio.

Paul, I want to bring you back and talk about more thought you were bringing right before the break, and that is Robert Downey Jr.'s reputation in Hollywood. Clearly, he has a long reputation of struggling with this drug problem, but what was different about the last extent was that it happened during a job, whereas, in the past, he tended to fall into trouble and get into trouble when he was not working. Would that would raise a red flag?

VERCAMMEN: Well, absolutely, it did. As we said, that is a cardinal sin because here in Hollywood, you can do a lot of things, but don't start messing around with people's bank accounts. That is a cardinal sin, and that may make some people extremely leery of ever jumping on a project with Downey. Who knows what assurances and guarantees that they could put in contract for any future projects.

Then again, as Leon raised the issue of, he's now a very marketable commodity. I mean, the next project -- can you imagine -- with Robert Downey's name attached to it will instantly bring a lot of attention and will probably be something that a lot of people will tune into or go see at the movie theater, just to see how all of this fares.

He does have that working for him, and he has something else working for him: He's popular in the town. Don't forget, when they nominate you for the Emmy Awards, these are your peers, your buddies; these are folks that you actually beat out. Other actors, who probably thought that they deserved an Emmy nomination, sat down and consciously wrote down Robert Downey Jr. on a piece of paper. And that's because you hear from the Calista Flockharts and other actors in this town that Robert's a supreme talent and basically a good guy.

He's obviously a tragic figure to many people in this town, and maybe they do feel sorry for him. I don't know if he was given a pity vote, if you will, but as we've been talking about a lot this morning, he does have a lot of respect in the acting community, and sometimes it's almost like he's that kid that somebody votes for class president that they all kind of like, they flat think he's an all right guy.

So that has long been part of his ability, I think, to survive in Hollywood. I've heard some legendary blowups by some bigger stars and heard some of the things that they say to people on set, and as far as I can tell, Downey has never, ever had any of those huge and malevolent hissy fits.

KAGAN: But what about the basic business aspect of this, Paul. Isn't it standard in a production that you would have to get insurance on a major star, and wouldn't it be difficult to getting insurance on Robert Downey Jr. at this point?

VERCAMMEN: That's the question. I don't know that it would be completely difficult. It might just be one of the highest premiums you would ever want to look at. It might be something greater than the insurance you get not to have fog wreck your shoot. That happened, for example, during "Basic Instinct." They go to a place and say can you insure my movie against it? At one point, they lost some shooting days because the fog rolled in. The contingencies and the dotted lines and the T's and the I's and all the things that they would have to cross and dot would be, I think, just mind numbing, and it might be a legendary new contract in Hollywood when they do try to insure him in the future.

This is not uncharted territory, of course. There have been other actors and actresses who have had their battles with drugs, but certainly, the repeat offenses by Downey are going to raise a lot of alarms and could lead to that, as I said, unique contract.

KAGAN: Paul, you mentioned earlier that Robert Downey Jr. is wearing an electronic tracking anklet. Tell us more about that.

VERCAMMEN: That's according to his parole officer. He says that Downey voluntarily -- and he suggests this is indicative of just how hard Robert Downey Jr. is trying to stay clean and sober -- opted to put this tracking bracelet on. So it's just a further protection in case for some reason, somehow, in the middle of the night, or somewhere, you know he tried to wander off, that kind of thing.

They've talked at length, the parole officers to me, about the fact that they think this time he is making an honest and earnest go of it. They say that they feel he looks good and he's making progress and that he is getting quite healthy. The last time -- let's face it -- he was in court -- I hate to try to be someone who characterizes the way somebody looks -- but I don't think Downey looked his best. But they say as he continues in this 12-step program, which is important to him, obviously, that he is taking his time with it (AUDIO GAP) his need to focus.

And they say at the small facility which he is now living in there are not a ton of beds; there are not a lot of people there, and there are not a lot of distractions. They also say due to the smallness of it, he's not getting what he might get somewhere else, and that is so many people walking up to him, confronting him, questioning him, possibly asking for an autograph, wanting him to recount what it was like when he made the movie "Chaplin," or tell them about "Ally McBeal."

They say that this is basically allowing Downey to go about his important business -- which is getting clean and sober -- and not being bothered by a lot of other people or extraneous influences. We will see.

His publicist echoes that, as you would expect, but he says he thinks Downey's doing the best he's don't in quite some time.

HARRIS: Paul, we're sitting here looking at this snapshot of his supporters in the courtroom right now. These are his lawyers who are seated next to him, but also behind him is the person who runs the drug counseling program where he's been staying for the last period of time.

That drug counseling that he's been seeking right now is also, as I understand, has been the focus of some criticism by this first lawyer, the other lawyer that he had working with him in the past. He's actually speaking out against Robert Downey Jr. being in this program. What do your know about that particular case?

VERCAMMEN: That is an extremely thorny issue. And Daniel Brookman and Mr. Waters and the rest of his legal team have raised some objections to the center he's now in. On the flip side, in checking with his parole agent, he basically says, Look, Robert Downey Jr. is in a licensed facility right now; we like the facility, and no way would we, as his parole officers, allow him to end up in any spot that would jeopardize him; we're absolutely on board with this place being legit; we're happy to see that he's making progress. And they just refuted that.

Another person, who I'll not name, in Downey's camp said off the record that they thought that Downey's previous lawyers were just taking a cheap shot because they were upset that they were fired. And that comes from a source very close to the Downey camp. So that's quite a thorny issue.

Going back to corrections, the State Department of Corrections is fine with it, and it is a licensed facility.

HARRIS: Since you bring up that word "fired," can you give us any information or background of why the original lawyers were fired?

VERCAMMEN: You know, that is something that has been very, very hush-hush. Obviously, Downey wanted to go in a different direction and settle the case. I think Downey's previous lawyers would argue that they already had this plea deal set up, but what happened here clearly is after Culver City, his arrest in April, in an alley, with cocaine, in what seemed to be just the most stark circumstances: What was Robert Downey doing in the middle of night in an area known for crack abuse. He was then taken, of course, to the correctional facility. Maybe that changed the game for Downey. I can't completely put my mind in his, but at some point, he decided that he would make a legal change, and now here we are with the plea bargain.

There was that other scenario, as we said before, prior to that arrest in Culver City, where they were going to fight this case bitterly and, basically, bring up a lot of issues, including the whole reason as to why authorities wound up in his hotel room in the first place.

So here we are today. The prosecutor, as I said, coming into the courtroom, said to me she would be absolutely shocked if this is not wrapped up now.

HARRIS: Interesting. Paul, you stand by.

We're going to check another facet of this story, that facet being Proposition 36, which was approved by California voters last November.

Our Rusty Dornin takes a look now at how this new law works and what it may mean for Robert Downey Jr.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's not violent. He's definitely got a drug problem. And under California's new law, offenders like Robert Downey Jr. could get sentenced to treatment, not time.

GLENN BACKE, DRUG POLICY FOUNDATION: The only law they broke, is they are in possession of drugs. They have no other crimes at the time. And they have no other violent crimes in the last five years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are charged with being under the influence of cocaine.

DORNIN: Judge Peggy Hora once used treatment in jail like the carrot and the stick, a stick the new law all but takes away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are also eligible under California's new law which went into effect today...

DORNIN: Drug testing is another tool taken away by the new law. And without jail time or drug testing to keep addicts in line, Hora worries the whole experiment will end up sending the wrong message.

JUDGE PEGGY HORA, ALAMEDA COUNTY: My biggest fear is we are going to be spending all this money, half a billion dollars, to have people say treatment doesn't work. And that's not true.

DORNIN: In East Palo Alto's Free at Last drug treatment center, the new law will house another 12 addicts, but from the courtrooms to the treatment centers, no one is exactly sure how the law will work.

PRIYA HAJIC, TREATMENT PROGRAM ADVISER: We don't know how much money, we don't know exactly how many clients, and we don't know exactly what their needs are going to be.

DORNIN: Along with uncertainty, there are fears that prosecutors in some counties won't play fair.

Maybe the DAs are going to press secondary charges on everyone and you know, resisting arrest, or solicitation, because there is a secondary charge, it will disqualify you, and they can get you on the prison time.

DORNIN: California jails more drug users per capita than any other state. Not jailing low-level offenders could save $250 million a year, say supporters, for the next 5 1/2 years.

(on camera): About 36, 000 drug offenders will get sentenced annually to treatment. Will they go? Will they quit using drugs? The answers will determine the outcome of one of California's boldest legal experiments.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, San Francisco


KAGAN: The wait goes on in a California courtroom, Robert Downey Jr. awaiting the presence of a judge, to enter his plea agreement and be sentenced.



Back to the top