Why Is 'Hangover' Producer Scott Budnick Under Investigation By The LA County Sheriff?
Over the last decade, Scott Budnick, producer of the "Hangover" movies, has earned high marks and news coverage for reinventing himself as an advocate for incarcerated youth. Lately, though, he's taken on another unexpected role — as the subject of a criminal investigation.
In 2015, Budnick helped a teen charged in the murder of a Downey police officer get pro-bono legal representation. Budnick's lawyers say that as a result of his advocacy, an L.A. County Sheriff's sergeant is retaliating against him.
In a letter sent to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department Monday, Ron Kaye, an attorney representing Budnick, has asked the department to open an internal affairs investigation into the homicide division's Sgt. Richard Biddle. Biddle was one of the officers who investigated the murder of Downey police officer Ricardo Galvez.
When asked for comment, an LASD spokesperson sent KPCC/LAist the following statement: "There were two search warrants sought for probable cause which were approved by a judge. The information obtained is being reviewed as part of the on-going legal process."
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The letter to LASD claims that Biddle has been engaged in a "campaign of harassment against" Budnick and the attorneys who represented the juvenile, Abel Diaz.
The letter points to court filings showing that Biddle, in the last year, obtained two search warrants for electronic information about Budnick; one of the warrants was for all information associated with Budnick's Google account, including every email from the date his account was created, his Google wallet information, his entire search history, his location when using the account and all passwords associated with the account.
"It is the most invasive search warrant that I've virtually ever seen," Kaye told KPCC/LAist.
BUDNICK HELPS DIAZ
Budnick met Diaz in 2015 while teaching at a writing program for juvenile detainees at Sylmar Juvenile Hall. By that time, the "Hangover" producer had already established himself as an advocate for criminal justice reform issues and had founded the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a non-profit that helps former inmates.
Diaz, who was 16 when he met the producer, had recently been arrested with two others, and charged with the murder of Downey police officer Ricardo Galvez during an attempted robbery.
Galvez was shot in a parking lot while sitting in his car out of uniform next to the police station. Authorities said the shooting was a "botched robbery," and that Diaz and the two adults with him didn't appear to know they were targeting a police officer. Diaz was on the passenger side of Galvez's car when he heard a gunshot and ran, according to the court transcript of his testimony.
Diaz was going to be tried as an adult and faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
According to court filings, Budnick "saw potential" in Diaz and reached out to attorneys after he learned that the teen's public defender had failed to appear at the first two court hearings. Criminal defense attorneys Blair Berk — who's represented Hollywood figures including Harvey Weinstein and Britney Spears — and Michael Cavaluzzi agreed to represent Diaz free of charge.
Last year, Diaz entered a plea agreement, and the District Attorney's Office moved his case to the juvenile court system, where he'll be eligible for release when he's 25.
BIDDLE INVESTIGATES BUDNICK
In January and April of this year, LASD's Sgt. Biddle obtained search warrants for electronic information regarding those associated with Diaz.
In reports, Biddle wrote that the Downey Police Department had received an anonymous letter alleging that Budnick — and Diaz's attorneys, Cavalluzzi and Berk — had engaged in "potential criminal and unethical conduct."
According to Biddle's report, the letter claimed that Budnick had "inappropriate contact" with Diaz and arranged for his new legal representation without Diaz's court-appointed attorney's knowledge.
Biddle also wrote that between February 2016 and January 2019, he and another sergeant investigating the case were informed of "several additional investigative leads and allegations of potential criminal and unethical conduct by Budnick and Diaz' legal team regarding Diaz' murder prosecution."
A notice of a search warrant for Budnick's Google account information states the records "were requested for a criminal investigation pertaining to obstruction of justice and providing false evidence during judicial proceedings."
The search warrants are currently sealed, so it's unclear what source material Biddle used to get them approved.
In a court filing to unseal the search warrants, lawyers for Budnick have called Biddle's reports "baseless." The filing claims that Biddle "has weaponized his badge and position of power to target, harass, intimidate, and silence several individuals who dared to advocate for or represent Abel Diaz." They wrote that Biddle's actions creates a "chilling effect on legal practitioners tasked with representing those accused of crimes."
Biddle's actions, they wrote, have sent the message: "Defend those Sergeant Biddle deems prosecution-worthy and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department will come after you."
Biddle has not returned a request for comment.
A deputy district attorney who was a prosecutor in Diaz's case told the Los Angeles Times that Biddle and his partner acted with "extreme professionalism" and contended that Biddle's actions against Budnick and the attorneys were not retaliatory.
Kaye disagrees. "It's a travesty that he has the ability as a law enforcement officer to invade their most private messages, their most private thinking and communication — it's outrageous," he said.
5:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the LASD.
This article was originally published at 9:05 a.m.
READ THE LETTER FROM BUDNICK'S ATTORNEY