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Manhattan DA drops ‘Hotel California’ lyrics case amid accusations key evidence withheld

Adam Gray/Getty Images North America/TNS

NEW YORK -- The Manhattan district attorney’s office suddenly dropped charges Wednesday against three men accused of criminally possessing Eagles frontman Don Henley’s handwritten notes and lyrics to the 1976 album “Hotel California” amid new evidence a judge said the rock star and his lawyers blatantly tried to hide from the defense and prosecutors.

Prosecutors moved to dismiss the case against Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski less than two weeks into their Manhattan Criminal Court trial after gaining access to thousands of pages of previously undisclosed material.

In scathing comments from the bench, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Curtis Farber said the “jarringly late disclosures” showed the 76-year-old Henley, Eagles manager Irving Azoff, and their lawyers sought to “obfuscate and hide information that they believed would be damaging to their position that the lyric sheets were stolen” and prevent a thorough cross-examination.

“It is additionally troubling to this court that [prosecutors] were apparently manipulated. However, such manipulation was the result of passive complicity in allowing this situation to develop,” Farber said.

“Albeit late, I commend the prosecution for refusing to allow itself or the courts to be further manipulated for the benefit of anyone’s personal gain. District Attorney (Alvin) Bragg and the prosecutorial team here, while eating a slice of humble pie, are displaying the highest level of integrity in moving to dismiss the charges. I am impressed.”

Farber dismissed the high-profile case after hearing from Assistant District Attorney Aaron Ginandes, who said Henley’s decision to invoke attorney-client privilege during the trial and then waive it after testifying led to the last-minute dump of around 6,000 pages of material. That included emails and “other disclosures,” but the exact nature of what was released was unclear.

“These delayed disclosures revealed relevant information that the defense should have had the opportunity to explore in cross-examination of the People’s witnesses,” Ginandes said.

“[The] People concede that dismissal is appropriate in this case.”

Farber said prosecutors should have probed Henley’s reasoning for invoking attorney-client privilege when there “was simply no criminal risk to him.”

“More importantly, they should have recognized that they did not have a complete understanding of their case and that potential material existed upon which the defense could rely on in their defense,” the judge said.

In a statement to the Daily News, an attorney whom Henley retained Tuesday indicated he would file a lawsuit.

“The attorney-client privilege is a foundational guardrail in our justice system and rarely, if ever, should you have to forsake it to prosecute or defend a case,” Daniel Petrocelli said.

“As the victim in this case, Mr. Henley has once again been victimized by this unjust outcome, and he will pursue all his rights in the civil courts.”

The case brought in June 2022 alleged the trio of collectibles experts sought to muddy the chain of custody of the valuable manuscripts — which also included developmental lyrics to the songs “Life in the Fast Lane” and “New Kid in Town” — Horowitz purchased them from Ed Sanders, a writer who worked with the Eagles on a never-published band biography.

Horowitz, a rare book dealer, sold the material to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Inciardi, of Brooklyn, and Kosinski, of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, who put them up for auction, prosecutors said.

The defense vehemently disputed the transactions were dishonest, contending Henley had willingly shared the papers with Sanders long before they ended up in their possession.

“One of the ironies of the case is that Mr. Horowitz and other defendants were accused of not doing a full investigation of Mr. Sanders. But it appears that the failure to do a full investigation lies with the other side,” Horowitz’s lawyer, Jonathan Bach, said.

“It was one-sided information because they didn’t speak to us, and … in the words of the judge, was manipulated and strategic and designed to present a one sided view.”

Kosinski’s lawyer, Scott Edelman, said jurors had heard no evidence to suggest the would-be biographer stole the papers that wound up with his client, noting Sanders himself hadn’t faced any charges.

“And there was certainly zero evidence that Mr. Kosinski believed that the manuscript was stolen and the evidence established that he put it up for public auction,” Edelman said.

“I commend [prosecutors] in the end for making the right decision. But frankly, from the perspective of my client, Mr. Kosinski, it’s too little and too late.”

Inciardi’s attorney said she was evaluating the next steps given Judge Farber’s “serious statements” Wednesday morning.

When he took the stand as a witness for the prosecution, Henley, who founded the Eagles with his late music partner Glenn Frey and has long advocated for artists’ ownership rights, said he reported the pages stolen upon discovering they were up for auction in 2012, when he purchased four of them for $8,500.

Henley disputed that he intended for Sanders to keep the notes after sharing them for research purposes at his Malibu, Calif., ranch, claiming he told the writer he could review the notes at a breakfast table in an apartment upstairs from the barn.

“It doesn’t matter if I drove a U-Haul truck and dumped them at his front door,” Henley testified.

“He had no right to keep them or to sell them.”

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