Since Chris Brown's arrest in February, his normally loquacious attorney, Mark Geragos, has said nary a word about how he plans to defend Brown against charges that he punched, choked and threatened to kill his pop star girlfriend, Rihanna.
But comments by the attorney in court Wednesday suggest part of the strategy might be attacking police for the leak of a photo of Rihanna's bruised face.
The defense lawyer told a judge he planned to request information about possible police misconduct or bias and mentioned by name an appellate court ruling that provides defendants access to files in internal police investigations.
Geragos' remarks seemed a clear reference to the probe sparked by TMZ's posting of a photo consistent with Rihanna pictures taken by police that night.
LAPD investigators have been interviewing their own officers and scouring computers for two months - so far in vain - in an effort to determine if someone inside the agency sold or gave the photo to the celebrity gossip website.
Is Chris Brown's lawyer's apparent strategy of focusing on this haunting, leaked Rihanna photo relevant to his client's defense - or a shameless, distracting ploy?
With a preliminary hearing date now set for May 28, Geragos' actions indicate he may seek to have the case thrown out over the photo at that time.
Whether he proves effective or not, the attorney's focusing on the photo's leak would most definitely compound the LAPD's embarrassment over the apparent failure to safeguard evidence in a case that has attracted world attention.
A state law makes it a misdemeanor for officers or law enforcement employees to profit by leaking confidential reports or images. Police Chief William J. Bratton promised "a very painful experience" for any LAPD employee found to be involved.
"We are still following leads and the case is far from closed," said Deputy Chief Mark Perez, head of the LAPD's Professional Standards Bureau.Investigators got a search warrant this week for a personal e-mail account with a possible connection to the photo, Perez acknowledged.
He did not say if the address belonged to an employee of the LAPD or TMZ.
The celeb gossip site has said it obtained the photo "legally."
Perez was dismissive of possible attempts to make the photo leak a focal point of the case, saying "It doesn't surprise me. Criminal defense attorneys do everything they can do to win a case, and distraction is one way to do it."
But according to legal experts, the records sought by the defense could be useful at trial or in negotiating a plea deal for Chris Brown.
"If one or more of the officers were paid for releasing this photo and they were the same ones that were investigating the case, it's highly relevant," said criminal defense attorney Dmitry Gorin, who is not involved in the case.
"But if it's someone who worked in the computer department" and had nothing to do with the actual investigation, "then it becomes less relevant."
Chris Brown pleaded not guilty to two felony counts earlier this month.
The 19-year-old faces nearly five years in prison if convicted of assault and criminal threats in the February 8 incident with Rihanna, 21.
She told a detective she and Brown argued over text messages he received from another woman - said to be either manager Tina Davis or model Natasha Ellie - as they drove away from a pre-Grammy party in a rented Lamborghini.
According to an affidavit filed by the detective, Rihanna said Brown punched her in the face, bit her fingers and held her in a headlock until she nearly lost consciousness. She was later treated at a hospital for bruises and cuts.
Authorities are continuing to gather evidence, including records from Cedars Sinai Medical Center, according to a search warrant filed earlier this month.
Brown did not attend the hearing last week.