Calif. couple sentenced in 'modern-day slavery' case


Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 11:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 11:14 a.m.

LOS ANGELES - A former Hollywood studio attorney and his wife have been sentenced for abusive treatment of their Filipino maid in a case federal prosecutors said "amounts to modern-day slavery."

James Jackson, former vice president of legal affairs at Sony Pictures, was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and was fined $5,000.

His wife, Elizabeth, who pleaded guilty last August to a charge of forced labor, was sentenced to three years in prison.

"It seems she treated her dog much better than she treated her victim," U.S. District Judge Dale Fisher said at Monday's sentencing.

The couple's former maid, Nena Ruiz, alleged the couple forced her to work 18-hour days at their Culver City condominium for several months from 2001 to 2002.

Ruiz claimed in a civil lawsuit that Elizabeth Jackson regularly slapped her and pulled her hair. She also said she was forced to sleep on a dog bed and was given three-day-old food. The Jacksons only paid her $300 for her work, and threatened to turn her over to immigration authorities if she left them, Ruiz claimed. She said she finally fled after she was struck on the mouth with a water bottle.

Elizabeth Jackson told the judge 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."

James Jackson did not speak in court. He had pleaded guilty last year to a count of alien harboring and acknowledged he kept Ruiz at their home even though he knew her work visa had expired.

"These defendants subjected their victim to what amounts to modern-day slavery," Assistant U.S. Attorney Wan Kim said.

A jury awarded Ruiz $825,000 in damages in 2004. She did not address the court Monday.

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