Magician or Mystic by Jonathan Margolis

An excerpt from Uri Geller Magician or Mystic by Jonathan Margolis (Time magazine’s European correspondent)
Published in the UK by Orion Books (1999) in the USA by Welcome Rain (2000).

Accordingly, perhaps Uri began from the late Seventies to rely on legal muscle rather than any psychic power to pursue his fervent desire not to be, as he saw it, cheated or defamed. He even became something of a law junkie.Through an ever expanding file of legal cases against his perceived enemies, he gathered a team of committed lawyers in the US and Britain, who understand him and have become wise counsel to him in both the legal and the personal sense. In the USA, Richard Winelander, a Baltimore attorney, took over the Geller file by accident when an ex-colleague, Don Katz, was disbarred. ‘I’m a criminal attorney,’ said Winelander. ‘I don’t even believe witnesses. But I believe strongly in Uri. He’s a genius, and he’s my buddy. He managed to stop me smoking fifty a day, and the spoon-bending is real. It is totally unbelievable.’In New York his attorney and friend Robert Fogelnest keeps an eye on everything that is written and said about Uri Geller. Robert Fogelnest is immediate past President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and lectures on courtroom skills with a nationally famous Wyoming trial lawyer, Gerry Spence.In London, Uri’s barrister is the eminent Q C, Jonathan Caplan, another classic high-flyer – and strong believer in the paranormal and UFOs. His solicitor in Britain is Gordon Hausmann, a fluent Hungarian and Hebrew speaker who is married to an Israeli and has been involved in UK trials of anti-Israeli terrorists. In Europe, a Zurich advocate, Ulrich Kohli, who is also a Swiss Army lieutenant-colonel and a thriller writer, looks after Uri’s interests. Another close Geller adviser is a retired Federal Judge in Santa Barbara, California, Lee Holden who, like a lot of lawyers, was highly sceptical of Uri when he first met him, but now credits him with being ‘one hundred per cent real’ – and says his life changed dramatically by adopting Uri’s positive thinking techniques. It is perhaps unsurprising, given such a range of family friends in the law and a father so fascinated by law, that Daniel Geller, at just 17 and a prefect at his private school near Reading, currently hopes to make his career as a European commercial lawyer.The important thing about Uri’s cases as far as ‘the big picture’ is concerned is that none have involved proof or disproof of the paranormal, and almost all have involved James Randi’s excitable turn of phrase, In 1990, he sued Randi and a Japanese publisher for Randi’s claim in a Japanese magazine that Dr Wilbur Franklin of Kent State University committed suicide because he was so ashamed when Randi discredited Geller. In fact, Franklin had died of natural causes. Randi was ordered by the court in Tokyo to pay half a million yen (£2,500) for the insult while the Japanese publisher settled out of court with a high six-figure sum – in dollars, not yen. Geller successfully sued a newspaper in Hungary, in which Randi had been quoted accusing him and Shipi of being swindlers. Uri explained that he was bringing the case because he was embarrassed that his Hungarian relatives might have read the comments. The newspaper had to publish a retraction and pay damages and costs. Uri sued Randi and CSICOP for a comment in the International Herald Tribune that his ‘tricks’ were ‘the kind of thing that used to be on the back of cereal boxes when I was a kid’. In the US, he sued Timex for featuring a metal-bending performer in an advertisement, claiming this effect was his trademark. In London, Florida and Hawaii, he sued Victor Stenger, a sceptical scientist living in Hawaii, and Prometheus Books for writing falsely that he had been arrested in Israel for misrepresenting himself as a psychic. Uri only regretted not suing Randi in the 1970s for inventing the story of Uri being convicted of a crime.The Timex case failed. In the Prometheus case, over the alleged arrest in Israel, Uri gained a written apology and acknowledgement of error from both the American and British branches of CSICOP. In the States, the Herald Tribune case had to be dropped when his then lawyer Don Katz failed to file on time, while the argument that Randi was an agent of CSICOP was rejected. This led Uri, ironically since he was the plaintiff, into having to pay CSICOP $82,000 as part of a global settlement of all the cases, although in the long run, both CSICOP and Randi seem to have been more damaged than Uri by the six-year legal morass. Randi continues to maintain that he won all the cases Uri brought. A lot of Uri’s mis-management of cases was clearly the fault of Katz, his original Baltimore attorney, who seems to have been almost psychotically stressed out when he made an error on an unrelated case for which he was briefly disbarred. Katz’s co-counsels’ insurers repaid Uri most of what he lost over the case.A case not directly involving Uri, but which would not have happened without him, came to court in 1993. Five years earlier, Randi had referred in an interview to Eldon Byrd being ‘in jail as a convicted child molester’, Byrd sued in Baltimore, with Winelander as his attorney. At the 1993 trial Randi accused Geller in passing of blackmailing him with a transcript and a tape that appeared to be of Randi having intimate sexual conversations with teenage boys. Randi said in explanation that he had been working on behalf of the telephone company in its attempt to track down a minor who had been making obscene calls to his home. After a discursive trial, the jury found Randi guilty of libel with malice, but awarded no money to Byrd, having discovered that Byrd had a past conviction for possession of pornography. Randi has since repeatedly claimed he won this case too.If Uri Geller’s ‘semi-retirement’ in the USA looks more like a whirl of activity, it has taken a somewhat hyperactive form in Britain too, where he lives in a state of permanent reinvention. He came to Britain when crime and shootings in the USA had made him and Hanna doubt that it was where they wanted to bring up Daniel and Natalie. On an aeroplane he met Clement Freud, a distant relative on his mother’s side, then a British MP, who suggested he settle in England. The Gellers needed little persuading.Although Uri gives the impression that over the past fifteen years he has been quiescent, his own account of his activity – prompted, as ever, by Randi and his claims that ‘Geller is finished’ – belies the idea of retirement. ‘In the past ten years,’ he said, ‘I’ve written seven books, which have been translated into dozens of languages in thirty-three countries. I am working on five more books. I write eight different columns for magazines and newspapers, including The Times, My website has received as many as 400,000 hits in one day, A full-length motion picture about me by Ken Russell and distributed by Disney was sold to sixty countries in three days at the American Film Market. I have starred in countless TV specials and commercials, been written up in recent months in Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. And the latest Nieman Marcus catalogue in the States uses my name – without having asked me – to advertise a new range of silver cutlery. I don’t mean to brag, but it’s a damned funny kind of “finished” Poor old “Amazing” Randi continues to imagine things.’

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