Charges dropped midtrial in 'Hotel California' lyrics case

Prosecutors abruptly dropped their case in the middle of the trial of three collectibles experts accused of scheming to sell pages of lyrics.
Musician Don Henley, center, arrives to court in New York.
Posted at 9:58 PM, Mar 06, 2024

From the start, the case was highly unusual: a criminal prosecution centered on the disputed ownership of a cache of hand-drafted lyrics to “Hotel California” and other Eagles hits.

Its end was even more unexpected.

In the middle of trial, New York prosecutors abruptly dropped their case Wednesday against three collectibles experts who had been accused of scheming to hang onto and peddle the pages, which Eagles co-founder Don Henley maintained were stolen, private artifacts of the band’s creative process.

In explaining the stunning turnabout, prosecutors agreed that defense lawyers had essentially been blindsided by 6,000 pages of communications involving Henley and his attorneys and associates. Prosecutors and the defense got the material only in the past few days, after Henley and his lawyers apparently made a late-in-the-game decision to waive their attorney-client privilege shielding legal discussions.

"These delayed disclosures revealed relevant information that the defense should have had the opportunity to explore" when Henley and other prosecution witnesses testified late last month, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Aaron Ginandes told the court.

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With that, rare books dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi and rock memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski were cleared of all the charges. They had included conspiracy to criminally possess stolen property.

The case centered on roughly 100 pages of legal-pad pages, many from the creation of a classic rock colossus. The 1976 album "Hotel California" ranks as the third-biggest seller of all time in the U.S., in no small part on the strength of its evocative, smoothly unsettling title track about a place where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Prosecutors had said the defendants knew the pages' chain of possession was shaky but sought to keep and sell them anyway, contriving to fabricate a provenance that would pass muster with auction houses and stave off Henley's demands for the return of the handwritten sheets.

Through their lawyers, the defendants contended they were rightful owners of pages that weren't stolen by anyone.

"The next step is building back our reputations," Inciardi said in a written statement after the dismissal. Kosinski, leaving court, said only that he felt "very good" about the case's end. Horowitz hugged tearful family members, then left court without commenting.

Henley lawyer Dan Petrocelli, meanwhile, said the musician plans to turn to civil courts.

"As the victim in this case, Mr. Henley has once again been victimized by this unjust outcome," Petrocelli said in a statement.

One of Kosinski's lawyers, Scott Edelman, said they also were going to "evaluate next steps."

The communications that led to the case dismissal weren't released publicly. But in court earlier this week, defense lawyers said the trove had identified additional potential witnesses and raised questions about some testimony from Henley and others.

Judge Curtis Farber said Wednesday that witnesses and their lawyers used attorney-client privilege "to obfuscate and hide information that they believed would be damaging" and that prosecutors "were apparently manipulated."

As Edelman saw it, prosecutors "got blinded by the fame and fortune of a celebrity."

The defense maintained that Henley gave the lyrics pages decades ago to a writer who worked on a never-published Eagles biography and later sold the handwritten sheets to Horowitz. He, in turn, sold them to Inciardi and Kosinski, who started putting some of the pages up for auction in 2012.

"These are three factually innocent men," said Inciardi's lawyer, Stacey Richman.

Henley, who realized the pages were missing only when they showed up for sale, reported them stolen. He testified at the trial that he let the writer pore through the pages for research but "never gifted them or gave them to anybody to keep or sell."

The writer, Ed Sanders, wasn't charged with any crime and wasn't called to testify. He hasn't responded to messages about the trial.

Defense lawyers said in court Monday that newly produced emails showed that Henley initially suspected someone else before being reminded of the decades-old book project.

The defense said emails also indicated that some Henley lawyers and a private investigator initially characterized the pages’ disappearance as a burglary — and didn't mention Sanders’ 1979 book contract — because they believed that referring to a burglary would help their cause. The contract, often mentioned during the trial, said the Eagles would furnish Sanders with material, which would remain the band’s "sole property."

Messages seeking comment were sent to the Henley attorneys involved in the initial 2012 discussions about the lyrics sheets. Another firm that represented Henley in later dealings with the matter, Loeb & Loeb, said in a statement Wednesday that it respects the attorney-client privilege decisions and is "confident that its attorneys acted in accordance with their professional and ethical responsibilities."

Prosecutors said Wednesday that they repeatedly asked various witnesses to waive their attorney-client privilege, but they chose not to until the past few days.

But Horowitz lawyer Jonathan Bach said that while the defendants were accused of not asking enough questions about the pages' ownership, "it appears that the failure to do a full investigation lies with the other side."

Before the case collapsed, the nonjury trial provided sometimes gossipy peeks into the height of the Eagles' career and the music business.

The court heard the band's longtime manager lament on a decades-old tape about dealing with "a pampered rock star." Henley held in his hands aging pages with lyrics-in-the-making for such Eagles songs as "After the Thrill is Gone," "One of These Nights" and "The Long Run."

During testimony that stretched across three days, the Grammy-winning singer and drummer recounted highlights from the band's heyday, such as the writing of "Hotel California." And he discussed personal low points, including his 1980 arrest after authorities reported finding a 16-year-old girl who was ailing from drug use at his home. It happened as the Eagles were breaking up, and Henley was reeling.

"The band was everything to me, and it's something I’d been working towards since I was 15 years old. It was my whole world" and "my identity," he said. "We had accomplished so much in the previous decade."

In the long run, it wasn't the end. The Eagles reunited in 1994 and are still touring.