Phil Spector's often-absent lead lawyer, Bruce Cutler, announced today (Aug. 27) that he is leaving the music producer's murder case because of "a difference of opinion between Mr. Spector and me on s

Phil Spector's often-absent lead lawyer, Bruce Cutler, announced today (Aug. 27) that he is leaving the music producer's murder case because of "a difference of opinion between Mr. Spector and me on strategy."

Cutler made the announcement as the trial resumed for what was expected to be the last day of testimony. It wasn't immediately clear if he quit or if Spector fired him.

Cutler had been absent from the trial for many weeks so he could appear on a syndicated TV show. He told Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler that he was prepared to return and do the closing arguments for Spector, but now, Cutler said, "there's nothing I can do for Mr. Spector. I can no longer effectively represent him."

The judge asked Spector if everything that Cutler said was accurate. "That is correct," Spector answered in a raspy voice. Defense attorney Roger Rosen has stepped in as lead lawyer.

Spector, 67, is charged with killing actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, Calif., mansion on Feb. 3, 2003, a few hours after she went home with him from her job as a nightclub hostess. The defense maintains that Clarkson, 40, was depressed and shot herself.

With the defense nearing the end of its rebuttal case, the judge has said he expected testimony to end Monday. Final arguments are set for Sept. 5.

Cutler, perhaps best known for representing the late mob boss John Gotti in New York, had been sidelined since early in the trial. He delivered a bombastic opening statement for Spector that drew poor reviews in the legal community, and then cross-examined a key witness in a manner that drew a rebuke from the judge.

Cutler later left the trial for three weeks to tape the TV show, "Jury Duty," in which he plays a judge.

At the end of July, after Cutler said he planned to leave again to tape more episodes, the judge noted that Cutler had been planning to return to do closing arguments and said that could be a problem legally because he had not been present for much of the trial.

Cutler complained that he had only missed 11 days of the defense case, but the judge said even one day could be a problem.

"Mr. Spector," the judge said at the time, "If you choose to have Mr. Cutler argue this case and if there is a conviction, you give up the right to come back at a later time and say my attorney wasn't there." He asked Spector if that was what he wanted, and Spector replied, "I'll discuss it with him."


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