Jailed actress says she's the victim
By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer
By Ken Kobayashi
She was featured as Jill Abbott on the soap opera "The Young and the Restless" in the 1970s and 1980s. She won the People's Choice award as best villainess for her role. And now she's trying to resurrect her career.
But Brenda Dickson sits behind bars at the O'ahu Community Correctional Center.
She's a victim, she says, of a court system that didn't give her a fair divorce hearing and took away her spousal support.
Dickson was arrested the night of Feb. 6 on a civil contempt of court order from the aftermath of her highly contested, bitter divorce. She's been locked up ever since.
In Dickson's divorce from a local lawyer, part-time Family Court District Judge Darryl Choy set aside an agreement that would have given her a Los Angeles apartment worth $1.3 million and $14,000 a month in spousal support. Instead, Choy ordered that she would receive no alimony and that, among other points, the condominium be sold and the proceeds divided between her and her ex-husband.
But the 58-year-old former Honolulu resident refuses to leave the upscale Los Angeles apartment so it can be sold, and a warrant for her arrest was issued for defying the court order.
"This judge has left me penniless," Dickson said last week in an interview at the prison. "He wants me to go on the street and be homeless. It's utterly and completely outrageous."
Her former husband, Jan Weinberg, 60, referred questions to his lawyer, Charles Kleintop, who said Choy's order as well as others issued in the divorce case were "reasonable and fair." Kleintop suggested that Dickson put herself in jail by repeatedly defying the Family Court and not complying with Choy's order even though she was given ample time to comply.
"Our Family Court judges do not like putting people in jail, but that's the ultimate way of causing people to comply with court orders," Kleintop said.
NOT READY TO COMPLY
Dickson must remain behind bars until she obeys Choy's order. Her next hearing before Choy is Thursday.
She indicated that while she wants to be released, she is not prepared to comply with what she said is an unfair decision by Choy dividing up their assets.
The jailing of a party as a result of a divorce case is highly unusual, particularly when it doesn't involve the welfare of any minor or threats of violence, but the case shows the kind of extreme measures judges can take in an attempt to force compliance with court orders.
Dickson's lawyers were preparing a challenge to the civil contempt and have appealed the final divorce decision that cleared the way for Choy to order her to leave the Los Angeles condominium.
But in the meantime, and unless Dickson changes her mind and decides to comply, she must remain behind bars.
FOUND IN CONTEMPT
Dickson appeared in various TV shows, but is mostly known for her role as Jill Abbott in the popular "The Young and Restless" series. She and Weinberg were married in Beverly Hills in 1997. They lived in Honolulu, but divorced last year following the contested case that produced boxes of legal documents.
Dickson wanted the Family Court to uphold the agreement that would have given her the apartment and the $14,000 a month, but the Family Court set that agreement aside. After a trial, Dickson refused to leave the L.A. condo, claiming that she did not have money for the $15,000 to remove her belongings and $5,000 a month to store them. Weinberg said her refusal torpedoed the sale of the property for $1,375,000 in August. Kleintop filed a request to hold her in civil contempt on Sept. 1.
On Sept. 20, Choy found her in contempt, issued a bench warrant for her arrest with bail set at $10,000 and fined her $1,000 a day, payable to Weinberg, for each day she refuses to leave the apartment. The fines, which are still running, now total more than $160,000, which are being paid from her share of the sale of their former Nu'uanu residence. Once that amount is depleted, the fines will be paid from her share of the future sale of the Los Angeles apartment, the judge ruled.
The judge also ordered that because the sale fell through, Dickson must pay about $6,000 a month, the mortgage and other costs for the apartment, that Weinberg had been paying. In addition, she must withdraw a court case she filed in California contesting the Honolulu Family Court decisions.
What landed her in jail was the result of weird happenstance.
Dickson might not have ended up in jail, but she returned here from California to help her lawyers file a legal challenge to the contempt order, she said. Kleintop happened to spot her at Ala Moana Center and his office reported to police that she was here.
"I was shocked to see her in Honolulu," he said. "I just assumed she would never return to Honolulu with a bench warrant outstanding for her arrest."
Dickson was arrested by police, held overnight at the cellblock, then transferred to the prison. She appeared the day following her arrest before Choy, then again two days later, but each time indicated she would not comply with the order to vacate.
Dickson declined to have her photograph taken at the prison because she said it would undermine her image, but she appeared upbeat in her dark green prison uniform as she discussed her case in an interview with The Advertiser.
"For me as an actress, I was sort of soaking it all in, to be honest with you," she said. "To be locked up with these girls is unbelievable and also very humbling. There's so many lost people in here. It's so sad."
She said prison is degrading, saying she had to be strip searched. "Even more degrading, it's just the idea you don't have any shampoo or body lotion. The towels look like rags. I mean this is prison. I'm not complaining about prison. People are very sweet here, but to me, and the way I live my life, it's filthy, because I'm used to a certain type of life, and it's shocking."
She said there's camaraderie among the women. "I've made friends with them. Of course, they all know me from the show, so I've signed autographs the whole time I'm here. I understand these people and how lost they are and the mistakes they've made. I've tried to talk to several of them to change their lives. But for me it's very debilitating."
CAREER REVIVAL ATTEMPT
Dickson said acting is her only profession given that she has only an eighth-grade education because of dyslexia. But she said she's trying to resurrect her career, although it's difficult now that she's older. She said her plans include helping create a talk show that would include her interviewing celebrities at the Academy Awards on Feb. 25. She said she's invited to sit at a choice table at the awards. Her Web site, www.brendadickson.com, proclaims "Brenda's Back in Hollywood" and shows her posing for photographs recently with celebrities, including actor Antonio Banderas, boxer Oscar de la Hoya and actress Debbie Reynolds.
But it's far from certain whether she'll be released in time to attend the awards ceremony in Santa Monica, Calif.
Dickson harshly criticizes Choy for his handling of the case with rulings that she called abusive. She's also adamant that she won't comply with his order to vacate the condominium.
"It belongs to me," she said.
Kleintop said the case has been "very, very difficult" for Weinberg, "but he's gotten through it, and he's going forward strong."
There's been no negotiations to resolve Dickson's incarceration, Kleintop said.
"She won't budge," he said. "She definitely will not move from that property or allow inspections to occur or allow the property to be sold," he said.
Kleintop also said Dickson can be released if she complies with Choy's order.
"She holds the keys," he said.
'I HOLD THE KEYS'
But Dickson views herself as a victim of an abusive system that didn't give her a fair divorce hearing and took away her spousal support from the earlier agreement.
"I hold the keys to the door of the United States of America," she said. "I have a right to a fair trial."
Peter Esser, one of her lawyers, filed an appeal of Choy's divorce ruling. But a decision from the Hawai'i appeals court or the Hawai'i Supreme Court isn't expected for about a year.
Her other lawyers, Cheryl Brawley and Kyle Chang, were working last week on filing a challenge to Choy's contempt order.
But unless there's a hearing on the challenge or Dickson changes her mind, she'll remain behind bars at least until her Thursday hearing, which means she will be in custody for 16 days.
Reach Ken Kobayashi at firstname.lastname@example.org.