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Observers differ on whether fame bought Paris Hilton a special get-out-of-jail-soon card
This file photo made available Monday, June 4, 2007 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office shows Paris Hilton after the 26-year-old heiress turned herself in to begin her stay at the Century Regional Detention Facility. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department called a hastily scheduled news conference early Thursday morning June 7, 2007, outside the Century Regional Detention Facility to answer reporters' questions about the famous inmate. - photo by Associated Press
    LOS ANGELES — The judge said she’d get no breaks. The sheriff said she’d do her time. Even Paris Hilton said she was ready to face her sentence.
    But on Thursday, three days into a 23-day jail stint, Hilton was fitted with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet and released to the comforts of her 2,700-square-foot Hollywood Hills home due to a mysterious and unspecified medical condition.
    Did fame afford her special treatment? Neither Hilton’s representatives nor Sheriff Lee Baca, who made the decision to spring the celebrity inmate, responded to requests for comment Thursday.
    Hilton released a brief statement through her lawyer, thanking the sheriff’s department and jail staff ‘‘for treating me fairly and professionally. I am going to serve the remaining 40 days of my sentence. I have learned a great deal from this ordeal and hope that others have learned from my mistakes.’’
    Attorneys, meanwhile, differed on whether her treatment was unusual.
    ‘‘She would have gotten out early if she was plain Jane,’’ said Leonard Levine, who has handled numerous probation violation cases. He noted that overcrowding in the Los Angeles County jail system has led to thousands of nonviolent offenders serving only 10 percent of their sentences. ‘‘She did as much time as a normal person would have done.’’
    But City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo denounced Baca’s decision, saying his office was not properly advised and would have opposed it on legal grounds. Delgadillo asserted that only the judge — who had specifically said Hilton could not do her time at home and disagreed with the early release — retained jurisdiction over her case.
    Steve Cron, a defense attorney who has represented celebrities, said Hilton was indeed treated differently: ‘‘I think the sheriff was just tired of the paparazzi and the increased security problems. ... I don’t buy the reasons they gave.’’
    The saga began last Sept. 7, when police spotted Hilton weaving down a Hollywood street in her Mercedes. She failed a sobriety test, pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 36 months’ probation, alcohol education and $1,500 in fines.
    Two more driving arrests later, she had violated her probation and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. That was reduced to 23 days for ‘‘good behavior.’’
    On Sunday night, after a surprise red-carpet appearance at the MTV Movie Awards, Hilton surrendered to authorities with little fanfare. She was sent to the separate ‘‘special needs’’ unit of the county’s Lynwood lockup, which contains 12 two-person cells reserved for police officers, public officials, celebrities and other high-profile inmates. Hilton didn’t have a cellmate.
    Like other inmates in the special-needs area, Hilton took meals in her cell and was allowed outside for at least an hour each day to shower, watch TV in the day room, participate in outdoor recreation or talk on the telephone.
    Then, shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday, Hilton was sent home to her four-bedroom, three-bath Spanish-style house on .14 acres above the Sunset Strip.
    Presumably, she has the run of the place as long as she doesn’t step outside the gate. And she can probably invite over celebrity pals like Britney Spears or Nicole Richie.
    ‘‘House arrest is nothing,’’ Cron said. ‘‘She can have friends over, she can party all night long.’’
    When she chose to serve her time under house arrest, the sentence reverted to the original 45 days. Although Hilton spent only three days in jail, she was credited for five because she checked in late Sunday and left early Thursday.
    Although the jury of public opinion may be outraged at Hilton’s early release, celebrity attorney Harland Braun said Hilton was actually being treated more harshly than a normal person: ‘‘I can’t imagine anyone else going in for 45 days for a probation violation.’’
    Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson suspected the deal for Hilton’s early release was in the works even before she entered the jail system — and that officials probably were anxious to get her out of their custody.
    ‘‘The time and resources needed to take care of a Paris Hilton are huge,’’ she said. ‘‘They have to make sure she is safe and her medical needs are attended to. Everything they did was going to be looked at under a microscope.’’
    Levine said that with rewards being offered for pictures of Hilton in custody, jail officials would have had to monitor the cell phone cameras of every employee.
    But the claims of a medical problem rang false to Cron and others, who said inmates with health or psychological issues can be treated in the jail infirmary.
    ‘‘If psychological problems were good reason to have people released, half the population of the prisons would be out,’’ said Levine.
    Rene Seidel of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services said she had ‘‘never heard of’’ an inmate being released from jail for a medical condition.
    Inmates with a cold are sent to a jail clinic, she said, and the seriously ill go to the jail ward of the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
    Cron said that whether or not Hilton was treated fairly, the outcome doesn’t reflect well on the criminal justice system.
    ‘‘I’m proud of the system and this makes the system look cheap,’’ Cron said. ‘‘It makes it look like she’s a celebrity and she got a sweetheart deal. It will further the perception that celebrities are treated differently.’’
    Associated Press Writer John Rogers contributed to this report.

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