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Is justice also served for the rich and famous?

Money can buy the best legal counsel, but fame also draws public scrutiny.

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She's in. She's out. She's in again. She's still in ... so far.

The story of the gilded bird sent to live in a steel-bar cage is a kind of Cinderella story in reverse – a riches to rags cautionary tale against acting as if one is exempt from the rules that apply to everybody else.

But the case of jailed socialite Paris Hilton, some say, also offers this lesson to the rich and famous who run afoul of the law: In court, celebrity can become your enemy.

At the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the sheriff's office is set to offer its explanation as to why Ms. Hilton was released just three days into her sentence for violating probation after a drunken-driving conviction. A judge promptly ordered the heiress returned to jail, but the resulting outcry against county Sheriff Lee Baca, which includes a local campaign to recall him for gross mismanagement, points to the challenges of meting out celebrity justice.

Some national and local activists suggest that Hilton's wealth and fame have won her privileges that poorer, lesser-known citizens would not receive: a lighter sentence, a nicer jail cell, access to better medical and psychiatric care, and easy-access visitation privileges for her parents.

Others, though, say Hilton's notoriety has brought her worse treatment – more jail time than average for her infraction – by officials who want to send a message that justice is indeed blind to the fame and fortune of lawbreakers.

Justice system in the spotlight

Either way, Hilton's scrape with the law gives the public a truer lens on the pressures placed on judges, courts, and jailers when a high-profile case is before them. At stake is public confidence in the justice system, which can take a hit if citizens conclude that different rules apply to celebrities.

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