In the case of Elizabeth Taylor v. Alki David, the video is labeled “Plaintiff’s Exhibit One,” but outside the Los Angeles courthouse, it’s simply called “Two Girls, One Cup.” Among many accusations of sexual harassment in the low-profile but high-stakes civil trial that started on August 9, Taylor—a one-time aspiring WWE wrestler under the stage name Bettie Rage—alleged that David, her former employer and the heir to a Coca-Cola bottling fortune and media entrepreneur, forced her to watch the grotesque bit of lesbian pornography involving feces and vomit. She testified that he walked up behind her as she sat at her desk, reached over her to cue up the video, and placed his hands on her shoulders as it played. He found the whole thing hilarious, she said—a claim bolstered by his laughter through Taylor’s description of the incident on the stand.
Over the three-week trial, while Taylor and her team presented a story about David’s outrageous and abusive behavior and the companies that allegedly enabled it, David focused his outrage at the characters he viewed as the architects of his legal woes: world-renowned women’s rights attorney Lisa Bloom and her mother, lawyer Gloria Allred. Bloom and her team sat beside Taylor through the August proceedings much as they had with another client, Chasity Jones, who won a massive $11 million verdict against David in April. According to David, these two lawsuits, and two others handled by Allred, constitute a conspiracy, with mother and daughter colluding with the seven women and two men accusing him of sexual harassment.
This is my beautiful client Elizabeth Taylor, testifying today in our trial. She found the courage to say no to sexual harassment and to see this case all the way through, four years later. She’s a true inspiration and it’s one of the great honors of my life to represent her. pic.twitter.com/EoJFbHOMHF
— Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom) August 20, 2019
In the waning days of #MeToo’s first explosive lurch of testimonials and accusations, questions remain about how much the movement has actually changed our understanding of gender and power. Although David claims to support women’s rights, he made a key part of his defense, in this current trial, his opposition to Bloom—one of the most prominent lawyers in post-#MeToo America. Even as news about Bloom’s work on behalf of disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein came on the heels of the trial, casting doubt on Bloom’s feminist image, the symbolism at the time of the trial seemed to offer a much more two-dimensional picture: a powerful man squaring off against a leading feminist over his treatment of women. With a jury of eight women and four men from Los Angeles, the question from the outset seemed to be not if he would lose, but how badly. But what would it mean if the vulgar, impulsive, unapologetic billionaire didn’t lose?
Drama and controversy come naturally to David. The Greek-descended British citizen studied film at London’s Royal College of Art and has appeared in a number of bit roles in movies and television. But even off-stage, he seems to play a character—“the billionaire Hollywood bad boy,” as The Hollywood Reporter put it, who once offered $1 million to anyone who would legally (somehow) streak in front of President Obama.
Taylor worked as a sales representative for David’s live TV streaming site, FilmOn, and his hologram company, Hologram USA, in 2015. In her roughly six-month employment, she says that David not only forced her to watch “Two Girls, One Cup,” but he groped her, carried her through the office by her ankles, and tied her to a chair with computer wires.
David’s response, against virtually all legal advice, was to represent himself. (That said, his companies, which were also named in the suit, had representation from high-profile defense attorney Ellyn Garofalo). “There’s a strategy to extort me through a litany of lies,” the billionaire hologram mogul yelled in court. “I’m responding to my castle being invaded as a man.”
David verbally accosted Bloom, calling her “liar,” “disgusting,” “pathetic,” and “a fucking bitch.”
While defending himself, David transformed the proceedings into what most would consider a farce. He verbally accosted Bloom, calling her “liar,” “disgusting,” “pathetic,” and “a fucking bitch.” He repeatedly threatened to sue her, although without clarifying on what grounds. Concerns over his aggressiveness prompted the presence of a sheriff’s deputy (rare for civil trials). Each day, David showed up in casual outfits, sometimes sporting Hawaiian shirts, other times a Ramones T-shirt and a Louis Vuitton fanny pack. By the end of the trial, he had accrued five court-ordered sanctions totaling $9,500, countless verbal warnings from the judge and bailiff, and an eventual ban from the courtroom of his own trial.
And while David’s invective-filled, daily carpet bombing of disorder appeared entirely impulsive, it was also clearly intentional. “This is the reason I am representing myself,” David told Judge Christopher Lui on the first day of the trial. “Because there are certain things that lawyers will not do, and that is to tell this jury exactly what the truth is.”
That said, Bloom, a seasoned litigator, seemed to have the home court advantage at times. “Are you under the influence of anything today?” Bloom began after David had been sworn in for his direct examination.
“No,” David said.
“Marijuana?” she asked the self-described “Pablo Escobar of Hemp” who, in May, spent a night in a St. Kitts jail for allegedly smuggling $1.3 million of cannabis products onto the tiny Caribbean island.
“Not under the influence,” he said.
“Did you smoke marijuana today?” Bloom asked directly.
David doubled down: “No.”
She pressed harder. “Did you smoke marijuana today, Mr. David?”
“That’s not of your business.”
“Have you been smoking marijuana daily throughout these proceedings?”
“Yes,” he said, suddenly.
“Correct,” David responded.
In fact, David would vape in the hallway outside the courtroom during breaks and in the elevator on the way to the courtroom.
As his own attorney, David had the right to cross-examine witnesses, including Taylor and two other alleged survivors of David’s sexual assault. First up was Chasity Jones, fresh from her own trial against David, but apparently no less anxious about taking the stand again—Jones had just filed a temporary restraining order against David in anticipation of the encounter. Garofalo characterized the last-minute order as a stunt, but according to Bloom, David had made repeated threats to Jones during her own trial.
When she took the stand for her cross-examination, Jones, also a former FilmOn sales representative, became distraught as David rose to question her from just a few yards away. “Can he talk to me?” she asked Judge Lui. The judge answered in the affirmative. So Jones avoided eye contact with David during most of his questioning, until David asked a question about one of the abusive incidents against Jones that he continues to deny: Jones says David walked up behind her and pressed his erect penis against her.
“You didn’t reverse backwards into my groin?” David asked.
Jones’s demeanor suddenly flipped from affectless to fiery, and she looked directly at him. “Alki,” she said, raising her voice, “you said it didn’t happen. Remember?”
In the ensuing crosstalk and back peddling, David tried to regain a foothold on the situation—in turn, re-violating various directives of the judge. Nearing the end of Lui’s patience, David promised he had only one more question. “Yes, I have a good question,” he told the judge.
“How did you know I had an erection?” David asked Jones.
Jones returned a shocked look, which spoke for most of the courtroom. “Wow,” she managed.
Around the same time Jones and Taylor started working for David’s companies, Lauren Reeves joined FilmOn and Hologram USA as a comedy writer and producer. Fighting back tears, Reeves told the courtroom about multiple allegations of abuse, including a time David called her into his office, pulled his pants down, and “shoved” her head in his crotch. This story was corroborated in the courtroom by a witness, David Nussbaum.
After her testimony, David took his position behind a lectern to question her himself. “So do you not realize that it was a joke when I called David Nussbaum into the office with my pants down?” he asked.
“That’s not a joke, that’s assault,” she said.
He followed up soon after: “What was it like?”
“That’s disgusting,” she replied.
“That was a joke,” David said.
Throughout the trial, but especially in his cross with Reeves, David tried to sell the idea that he was merely “enacting what would be a scene in The Office.” According to the billionaire, the fact that three women had testified about their fear of him didn’t prove the harmfulness of his actions, but rather the conspiracy to misconstrue and misrepresent them. The intent, not the actions themselves, seemed to matter most in David’s mind.
“Are you really scared of me?” David asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Terrified of me?”
“I have moved four times because of you in the last three years,” she said. “As a woman who lives by herself, I have to make sure that I am safe at all times, and it’s really horrifying knowing that there’s a man out there making threats against me.”
One of the stranger points of contention in an already outlandish story revolved around an alleged donation to the Amber Rose SlutWalk. The recently discontinued annual march, held in Los Angeles, was started by model and actress Amber Rose in 2015 to protest slut-shaming and rape culture.
While answering questions on the stand, David told Bloom that he had financed the event one year and streamed it on FilmOn. A few days later, when David returned to the stand for redirect, Bloom pressed him on this point again. David repeated that he had given $80,000 in services and $5,000 to $10,000 in cash to the event—he was “1,000 percent” certain, he told the court.
“In fact,” Bloom began, “you promised that organization a donation and you never made it, isn’t that true?”
David became apoplectic, yelling at Bloom even as the judge and the bailiff attempted to settle him down. “Why are you doing this to me, woman?” he yelled. “You’ve targeted me for years!”
The judge called for a ten-minute recess, but the matter soon resurfaced.
Following the day’s fireworks, both David and Bloom came prepared the next day with witnesses who would either support or refute whether David had made the donations. It turned out, somehow, that they had the same person in mind.
“Your Honor,” Bloom said during a break, “we have a rebuttal witness that we would like to call. It’s a person who was at the Amber Rose SlutWalk who would be a five-minute witness to say Mr. David never donated any money to the organization.”
“How about the producer of the actual event?” David interrupted.
“That would be good. It is one of the producers of the actual event,” Bloom replied.
David’s corporate attorney pushed back against the introduction of a rebuttal witness, but David continued. “I have a lawyer who was Amber Rose’s lawyer at the time,” he said, “who will corroborate what I said.”
“Great, that’s our witness,” Bloom said.
“Great, great—bring him on,” David invited.
And so she did. The next day, the courtroom clerk swore in Walter Mosley, Amber Rose’s lawyer and a co-founder of the Amber Rose SlutWalk. Bloom asked Mosley if David had told him that he would donate to the event.
“That’s right,” Mosley replied.
“Did he?” Bloom asked.
“No, he did not,” he answered. He testified that David had indeed provided streaming services for the event, but that the promised donation never materialized.
Bloomed thanked Mosley and then sat down.
“So, first off, I did give the cash to the producer. Are you saying that I didn’t pay anything to your production personnel?” David began.
“We’re not selling drugs here,” Mosley said. “It’s a nonprofit organization supporting women, so people donated by writing checks.”
David seemed to fixate on one producer in particular: Kara Sax, whose agency put on the event. “Do you think that Kara Sax took the money and kept it?” he asked.
“Kara Sax is the godmother of my son,” Mosley said.
While David and Garofalo had some success in pointing out how Mosley had worked with Bloom on cases in the past, the testimony came out strongly in Bloom’s favor.
By the last day of testimony, additional sanctions for continued outbursts had whittled David’s time away until he had none left for a closing argument. Still, in a discussion outside the earshot of the jury, the judge asked David what he had to say for himself.
“If I really have to spell it out for the record, I am dealing with criminal lawyers and you know it.”
But what seemed to push Lui to his breaking point was not David’s swearing, his yelling, his fist pounding, his laughing, or his attempts at entering inadmissible evidence—it was the suggestion that the judge was on David’s side. “I know you are doing the best that you can with all this madness,” David said. “You also . . . you know what? I will go as far as to say that you’ve allowed me the courtesy that you have so far because you know. How about that for a truth? You know that what I am doing is true.”
“Mr. David is excluded from the proceedings,” the judge replied.
David balked: “Excluded?”
“You are excluded from the courtroom,” he repeated.
“All right, you have a great day, Your Honor,” David said, storming out.
Worried that David might say something to the jurors waiting outside, Sarah Bloom, Lisa Bloom’s daughter and an attorney at her mother’s firm, followed in David’s wake.
“For the record, Mr. David is outside in the hallway,” Judge Lui said from the bench shortly after. “I can hear him yelling.”
“He’s screaming at my daughter,” Bloom said, rushing after Sarah along with the bailiff.
As the judge waited for the missing attorneys to return, he performed damage control with the courtroom attendant. “Are some or all of the jurors outside in the hallway where they would have seen or heard what just happened?”
The attendant responded, “All 12, Your Honor.”
The shocking upshot is that David was not found guilty. On the Tuesday after Labor Day, after over eight hours of deliberating, the jury sent Judge Lui a note: they were deadlocked. The judge called them out and spoke to them one by one. They all agreed. A verdict simply was not possible. Compounding the surprise, the jury had split eight to four in David’s favor—a tally that prevented either side from claiming a full victory, including David, who needed one more vote for an acquittal. Of the eight women on the jury, five sided with David. The judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.
In the hallway outside the courtroom, Taylor sat with her mother on one of the courthouse’s unyielding stone benches, her mother’s eyes red. Bloom expressed disappointment along with a commitment to bring the case back to court.
David, shortly after learning the verdict, took to Instagram to express his own ambivalence with his almost-win. He blamed the outcome partly on the foreperson of the jury, Sara Caplan, and her gender identity. In his Instagram story, he talked underneath floating text that read, “8 in my favor, 4 them, tranny 1.” (The next video showed David walking down a beach in Malibu, smoking a joint, with his Doberman, Vader, and Vader’s clone, Little Vader, who David recently obtained from a South Korean lab run by a scientist named Dr. Olof Olsson, according to a spokesperson.)
During the trial and continuing since, David retained the services of a Washington lobbyist to advocate for legislation making civil employment cases private. The legislation would make it a crime to share information about ongoing wrongful termination and sexual harassment proceedings. It would also bar members of the press from such cases, and would keep court records sealed unless a guilty verdict is reached.
Free to speak about the case for the first time since it started, Caplan said that some of the jurors, despite the judge’s orders, latched onto David’s conspiracy narrative. His anger at the limits on the evidence he could submit and his refrain about “criminal lawyers” and a “network” of fame-seeking women, cemented in all but four of their minds the truth of David’s persecution. “The fundamental divide came down to which witnesses people believed and which ones they didn’t,” Caplan said.
Seeming to bolster David’s shady depiction of Bloom, soon after the close of the trial, the New York Times published new revelations about disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the circumstances of his alleged abuses. The Times had previously revealed that Bloom had released a statement on behalf of Weinstein in 2017, leading to a months-long schism between Bloom and her mother. Bloom explained that she had hoped to help Weinstein apologize and characterized the decision as “a colossal mistake.”
But the September 8 article, which describes the findings of reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s book, She Said, offered new details about the arrangement. Working for Weinstein at a rate of $895 an hour, the attorney sought to suppress and discredit Weinstein’s accusers nearly a year before Twohey and Kantor first broke the story. Writing in a memo to Weinstein in 2016, Bloom laid out a game plan for smearing actress and accuser Rose McGowan’s reputation.
“I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them,” Bloom wrote. “They start out as impressive, bold women, but the more one presses for evidence, the weaknesses and lies are revealed.”
Bloom has since apologized again, posting on Twitter, “I thank Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey and Ronan Farrow for forcing me to confront the colossal mistake I made in working for Weinstein two years ago.” She did not address any specifics, but said that “I judge others not by their one worst mistake but by their lifetime of work.”
Outside the courtroom, in magazines and social media, activists and thinkers have repeated, “Believe women.” But in the jury room, some felt that Taylor and Jones’s pursuit of monetary damages impeached their credibility. For others, it was the amount Taylor sought—$10 million. Caplan recounted one juror saying, “Yeah, maybe that’s assault, but I’m supposed to give $10 million for that?”
As for David, “No one in that courtroom liked Mr. David,” Caplan said flatly. “They all thought that his behavior in the courtroom was unacceptable.” Nonetheless, she said, enough believed him. “Some people saw an arrogant narcissist who was furious that someone was trying to hold him accountable for his actions,” she explained, “and other people saw a spirited character who was righteously indignant at an unjust accusation.”
Since the case concluded, David is back in court for Lauren Reeves v. Alki David. On the first day in court, Judge Terry Green spent half the day admonishing David against representing himself. “It’s like going to the doctor and deciding that you’re going to practice medicine on yourself,” he said.
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