BY: ANTHONY McCARTNEY
LOS ANGELES – Mel Gibson pleaded no contest Friday to a misdemeanor spousal battery charge, just hours after it was filed.
In a plea deal, he was sentenced to 36 months of probation and ordered to attend 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling.
Gibson said little during the brief hearing, except to acknowledge he understood the charge and plea. He left court without talking to reporters.
Gibson, 55, was accused of striking then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva during a fight in January 2010 at the actors Malibu home. He was charged after a lengthy investigation by authorities.
John Lynch, a head deputy district attorney who helped handle the case, said he thought the plea agreement was warranted, given Gibson’s lack of a serious criminal history.
Grigorieva, a Russian musician, did not attend the hearing but was represented by one of her attorneys.
Gibson was accompanied by his attorney Blair Berk, who has said Gibson sought to end the case after considering its impact on his children, including an infant daughter with Grigorieva.
The complaint accused Gibson of “willfully and unlawfully” using force and violence against Grigorieva.
In a separate decision, prosecutors said they found insufficient evidence to charge Grigorieva with trying to extort Gibson.
The actor made the allegation during custody negotiations with Grigorieva after their breakup last year.
The battery charge was another blow to Gibson’s reputation, which took a major hit after his 2006 arrest for drunken driving. A deputy’s report leaked to the celebrity website TMZ revealed the action star had used anti-Semitic and sexist slurs.
His conviction was later expunged after he completed terms of his sentence.
Recordings leaked last year during his custody battle with Grigorieva also contained racist and sexist taunts by the actor during a series of tirades.
Gibson has not publicly addressed the recordings, which were given to sheriff’s investigators and widely circulated by the celebrity website RadarOnline.
The charges came a week before Gibson’s latest film, “The Beaver,” is due to premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. It is only the second major film that Gibson has starred in since 2002.
He portrays a deeply troubled man able to communicate only through a beaver puppet in the film directed by Jodie Foster.
Although Gibson’s prominence as an actor has diminished, he has remained a Hollywood fixture and drawn audiences as a director.
His relationship with Grigorieva helped return Gibson to the limelight, with the pair appearing on red carpets and award shows. Gibson confirmed her pregnancy on “The Tonight Show.”
Grigorieva, 40, has a teenage son with actor Timothy Dalton.
Gibson was accused of striking her on Jan. 6, 2010, although she did not report it until months later.
The Sheriff’s Department opened its investigation in July, and later began its probe into the extortion allegation made by Gibson.
By then, the pair had broken up and reached a confidential custody agreement regarding their daughter Lucia. Although the exact details are not public, Gibson’s attorney said last year the actor was paying for a house and car for Grigorieva along with child care.
The former couple has appeared opposite each other several times in a family law court that has heard issues related to child care, financial issues and evidence in the criminal investigations of both parents.
Grigorieva’s attorneys lauded the decision to not charge her with extortion, saying the conclusion was reached “after very careful consideration of all the facts and with complete fairness to all involved.”
Grigorieva never invoked her Fifth Amendment rights during interviews and turned over numerous confidential documents, according to a statement issued to The Associated Press by her lawyers Daniel Horowitz, Ronald Litz and Martin Garbus.
“Ms. Grigorieva will now concentrate on co-parenting Lucia, resuming her charitable work for the children of Chernobyl and moving forward with her life,” the statement said, declining further comment.
© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.