A Clockwork Orange: A Mormon, a Cop and a Fraud Defendant Walk Into a Bar . . .

Rock Wagner press conference: Nothing to see here, folks. Photo by Matt Coker

It took The Book of Mormon to make me believe. Huh? In musicals. What did you think I meant?

The muse moves in mysterious ways, and so it was that the WTF With Marc Maron podcast was my bedtime listening before I caught the March 20 opening performance of The Book of Mormon at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Maron’s guest Ted Danson mentioned during their chat that the audience plays a role at staged theatrical productions by suspending disbelief.

Frankly, I had never read, heard or considered that before. Viewing musicals, whether on film, television or a stage, I could never believe because all the singing and dancing took me out of the stories. And I had plenty of experience, having watched several civic light opera shows as an usher for service-club hours in high school.

The same gene that makes me adverse to musicals could be responsible for my avoidance of organized religion. Which brings us back to The Book of Mormon. With Danson dancing in my head, I made a conscious effort to suspend disbelief going in, having consumed a cannabis gummy to further help get me there. With that frame of mind, I found the South Park crew’s joint profane, subversive and oh so irreverent.

In other words, I loved it.

Maybe it was the gummy talking, but I ate up the outrageous plot, hilarious words (spoken and sung) and stellar performances by everyone onstage—most especially Conner Peirson, who plays Elder Arnold Cunningham, and Kayla Pecchioni, the female lead Nabulungi, whom my old pal Joel Beers recently interviewed for the Weekly.

The moral of this morality tale is that you must not let your disdain for musicals keep you away from this production any longer. This is a return engagement, after all, so get over there before it ends on April 1. Bring the family and all your wives!

ROCK . . . PAPER . . . LAWSUIT?
At a March 21 press conference on behalf of veteran Laguna Beach policeman Rock Wagner, his sister and her boyfriend, their attorney Michael Fell announced . . . well . . . nothing.

The cop and Norman McBride, both 58, and the latter’s 55-year-old girlfriend, Wendy Wagner, were arrested by Fullerton Police Department officers on Nov. 28 for alleged elder abuse and the theft of thousands of dollars from the Wagners’ father, Roland. Three days later, the elderly but, according to Fell, healthy man was removed by authorities from the home in which McBride had been his full-time caretaker.

Last month, the Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA) and the Fullerton and Laguna Beach police departments revealed that their separate investigations had fully exonerated the suspects. However, Roland Wagner died before he could be reunited with his family and learn they were officially off the hook.

With Fell’s clients by his side and supporting Laguna Beach police officers behind them, the lawyer spoke in front of television cameras and journalists who had been summoned to a conference room just off his Irvine office’s main entrance. Fell told of his clients’ heartbreak and humiliation, setting the table for an announcement of a wrongful-arrest lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages. But the lawyer, who let it be known that he would be the only one speaking to reporters, instead said that his clients merely wanted to “sincerely thank” the OCDA and Laguna Beach Police Department for exonerating them.

“It cost my clients a lot of money,” Fell said of bail, missed work and legal fees, but when asked if they would seek to recoup those funds in court (with interest and pain-and-suffering damages, no doubt), the mouthpiece replied, “That’s their decision. Whatever path they take, they will have to take it.”

I hate to insert feelings into my colleagues’ bodies, but I suspect everyone left the law office knowing which path that will ultimately be.

PIECE OF WORK
Philip Layfield, who as a personal-injury lawyer co-founded a firm with offices in Irvine and Los Angeles, won a $3.9 million settlement for Josephine Nguyen, who had been struck by an automobile in Orange County in February 2016.

After paying Nguyen a $25,000 advance, Layfield closed his offices and allegedly fled to Costa Rica with the rest of her $2.3 million cut. He was suspended from practicing law by the State Bar of California after he failed to show up for his Jan. 24 disciplinary hearing, where it was alleged he stole more than $3.4 million from clients. He’s been accused of filing unnecessary litigation to trigger increased attorney fees, settling personal-injury cases without advising clients and stealing settlement funds that should have been paid to those he represented.

Layfield was arrested in New Jersey on Feb. 26, before he could board a plane in Newark for a return trip to Costa Rica, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. If convicted of mail fraud and money laundering, he could be bound for a federal pen for 60 years, according to U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek.

In a past life, Layfield was a certified public accountant who went by the name Philip Samuel Pesin. With a University of Arizona bachelor’s in finance, a Georgetown University master’s in law, a University of San Diego doctorate in law, and experience as a U.S. Food and Drug Administration lawyer and private equity-investment-firm managing director, he founded the pharmaceutical company Auriga Laboratories.

In December 2005, Pesin was elected Auriga’s CEO and board chairman. Nine months later, he sent letters to shareholders boasting of high-growth revenues through acquisitions of valuable brands and developments of innovative drugs. Amid dubious claims about some products’ effectiveness, Pesin was out by January 2008.

It was after that when Pesin changed his last name and opened the Layfield & Wallace law firm. Between 2015 and ’16, some ex-employees posted negative remarks about the firm on the website Glassdoor, a Yelp-like forum on working conditions at different companies. In May 2016, Layfield & Wallace subpoenaed Glassdoor in hopes of getting names of those posters. Some reviews were then taken down, and Layfield himself issued a statement that included this: “Unfortunately, most of those people are unwilling to recognize their shortcomings, and they turn to anonymous blogs to spit their venom. The reality is that they should be upset with their parents for raising lazy and incompetent young adults, but they choose to spew false information on blogs such as Glassdoor.”

Lawyers . . .

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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