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'American Idol' judge Paula Abdul pleads 'no contest' to hit-and-run, avoids jail

By Wade Paulsen, 03/25/2005 

One of the oldest public-relations maxims is to put bad publicity behind you as quickly as possible before it damages your public image.

Apparently American Idol judge Paula Abdul knows that one.

Yesterday afternoon, Paula, who had just been charged in the morning with a criminal misdemeanor for hit-and-run driving, pleaded "no contest" to the charge in Los Angeles Superior Court. A "no contest" plea, while not technically an admission of guilt, means that the defendant will not challenge the truth of the charge and agrees to accept punishment for the crime.

Although the maximum penalty for the misdemeanor was six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, the court commissioner who accepted the plea sentenced Paula to a fine of $300, penalties of $600, restitution for the damages (paid to the party that Paula sideswiped) of $775, and a 24-month unsupervised probation. If Paula commits other crimes within that 24-month period, she would be subject to resentencing with jail time.

However, because of the nature of the conviction, if Paula keeps out of trouble through the entire probation period, she could later apply to have the conviction expunged from her record.

The case could have been damaging to Paula's "nice girl" TV image, because of charges that she had deliberately misled the police during the investigation. Paula had claimed that her Mercedes had been in the shop for repairs on the day of the accident (but it had actually gone in the next day) and that she hadn't hit anything other than a pothole around the time of the incident.

However, by putting the incident to rest so quickly, the PR damage to Paula's image should be minimal.

According to police reports, Paula sideswiped another vehicle on the L.A. freeways on December 20 while making a lane chage, then took off without stopping. The other driver took a picture of Paula's Mercedes on his camera phone, and his passenger recognized Paula from Idol.

Paula's lawyers issued the following statement after her hearing (which she did not attend) and sentence:

"Late last year, while driving on the Hollywood freeway, unbeknownst to Paula, there was some minor contact between the tire of her car and another vehicle on the roadway. The result was a small amount of property damage to the other car and no damage to Paula's car. This week, after learning that it had been determined that her car was actually involved, Paula immediately took full responsibility. She is pleased the matter could be resolved today in traffic court."

Although Paula, unlike fellow American Idol judge Simon Cowell, does not also appear on the U.K.'s Pop Idol, interest in her case spread across the pond anyway. The Daily Mirror quoted a "show insider," who said (prior to the court hearing) "Simon is normally quite nasty to Paula but, after what happened, he's been taking it easy and has been very understanding. Paula has tried to put on a brave face but you can see she has got a lot on her mind and is very worried about the charge."

Looks like Simon and Paula are now free to resume their regular relationship.

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