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Hollywood couple sentenced in maid ‘slave’ case

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Hollywood couple sentenced in maid ‘slave’ case

A former top Hollywood studio lawyer and his wife were on Monday sentenced by a Los Angeles judge after admitting to mistreating their Filipino maid in a case of “modern-day slavery,” a court heard.

US District Judge Dale Fischer ordered James Jackson, 53, a former vice-president of legal affairs at Sony Pictures to perform 200 hours of community service for admitting a charge of alien harboring.

Jackson’s wife Elizabeth, 54, was given a three-year jail term after pleading guilty to a charge of forced labor.

In passing sentence, Fischer said Elizabeth Jackson had treated the victim, former schoolteacher Nena Ruiz, worse than her dog.

Ruiz was forced to eat three-day-old food and to sleep on a dog basket after working 18 hours a day. Over the course of several months’ employment between 2001 and 2002 she was paid only 300 dollars.

“These defendants subjected their victim to what amounts to modern-day slavery,” said Justice Department prosecutor Wan Kim after the Jacksons pleaded guilty in August last year.

In a related civil lawsuit, Ruiz said Elizabeth Jackson regularly slapped her and pulled her hair.

The Jacksons also threatened to turn her over to immigration authorities if she left them, Ruiz said. Ruiz finally fled the Jacksons after she was hit in the mouth with a water bottle in February 2002.

Elizabeth Jackson said in a letter read out in court on Monday that she took full responsibility for her actions.

“In my life I have always tried and strived to do the right thing,” she said. “I failed in this case.”

Defense lawyers argued against a jail sentence for Jackson, saying the couple had already suffered enough by being forced to declare bankruptcy.

However Fischer denied a request for home confinement, telling the court: “It seems she treated her dog much better than she treated her victim.”

Ruiz won 825,000 dollars in damages from her former employers at a 2004 civil trial in Los Angeles.

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Jan 29, 2008 12:44pm PDT