Paris in hot water with public

Heiress' image likely more damaged by early release, house arrest

June 08, 2007|By Abigail Tucker and Stephen Kiehl | Abigail Tucker and Stephen Kiehl,Sun Reporters

The prison memoir that Paris Hilton reportedly plans to publish may have to be brief. After only three days behind bars in Los Angeles County, the jailed heiress was released yesterday to serve out the remaining weeks of her sentence in the comfort of her Hollywood Hills home.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department cited an unspecified medical condition as the reason for the transfer, although some celebrity news Web sites reported that the problem was mental, not physical. But a court spokesman said later yesterday that Hilton has been ordered to appear in court today for a hearing on whether she should be returned to jail, according to the Associated Press.

Hilton was imprisoned for violating probation in a drunken-driving case.

Her early departure yesterday seems unlikely to revive her suffering public image. When she entered the slammer, her chroniclers in the gossip columns and celeblogs trumpeted her rebirth as a good girl, a la Martha Stewart, who emerged from her own jail stay to host a new talk show where she bakes and lectures Lindsay Lohan on the dangers of hard partying.

But Hilton's story arc has now taken a different turn, and - although the details of her release are still hazy - she seems well on her way to becoming one of America's most despised luminaries.

"People were looking for a story about redemption," says Delaina Dixon, a staff writer for OK! Magazine. "This isn't going to change her image into someone who feels remorse. This feeds the fact that if you are rich you can get away with anything."

Although The Simple Life star spent only slightly more than three days in a Lynwood jail cell, the sheriff's department is crediting her with five. Her jail term had been reduced to 23 days, but now she would serve out her original sentence of 45 days, albeit in her home.

Hilton, a socialite-turned-model-turned-actress-turned-pop singer-turned-perfume poster girl, has always drawn fire from the public and the press, first when her love life was made public in an infamous leaked sex tape, and later for everything from misplacing her teacup Chihuahua to scandalously soaping up a car in a Carl Jr.'s burger commercial.

But her early exit from prison seems to have struck a deeper chord. Observers spoke of a bleached-blond scofflaw, an entitled princess too "hot" for prison.

"I think she may go down as the first person to whine her way out of prison," says Andrea Peyser, a New York Post politics and celebrity culture columnist who planned to dedicate today's column to the subject. "She whined, cried and stomped her feet."

"It's like, OK, you get to go to all the parties and live the glamorous life and fly around the world," Dixon says. "But why do you think you're above the law?"

Precisely why Hilton was sent home is unclear, although the celebrity news Web site TMZ.com reported that her lawyer and a psychiatrist had worked for her release.

"People are going to get angry, but they can't be angry with her," says Harvey Levin, managing editor of TMZ.com. "She hired a lawyer. If I were in her shoes, I would hire a lawyer to get out of jail, too. The question is: Did the sheriff's department do the right thing" by letting her out?

Yesterday the backlash had already begun. But some said that the decision to spring Hilton might have been pragmatic.

"Is there inequality in the criminal justice system? That's a given," says Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Was this the wrong way to handle Paris Hilton? "The answer is not necessarily."

She noted that Hilton has a nice home to go to, unlike other prisoners with health issues, and said, "This was simply the sheriff saying it doesn't make sense to use this facility for this inmate."

Levenson said Hilton's celebrity has complicated her case. Her initial sentence of 45 days was unusually harsh; some claimed that she was being made an example. But Hilton had the resources to get the best DUI lawyer in town and line up medical experts to testify on her behalf.

"It was money well spent," Levenson said.

Yet highlighting California's judicial flaws may not have been the best career move. People were looking forward to seeing Hilton turn over a new leaf are now just annoyed, says Bradley Jacobs, senior editor of US Weekly.

"She's back at her estate, lying on her 750-thread count sheets with an ankle bracelet," Jacobs says. "That's not punishment! Punishment is having to sit on a chrome toilet with no toilet seat. Punishment is getting your food ... through a slot in the door."

Rumors circulated yesterday that Hilton planned to throw a party celebrating her release.

"I think she was bored in there," Dixon said. Hanging out in "a cell when you're used to shopping isn't quite up to her speed."

abigail.tucker@baltsun.com

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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