Lindsay Lohan reality: Hollywood can only watch

James Cohen in USA Today, February 10, 2011

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Isn't there anyone who can help Lindsay Lohan?

Hollywood is clucking with concern over the latest lurch by the 24-year-old actress, fresh out of rehab and now accused of felony grand theft.

"She seems shockingly alone," says James Cohen, law professor at Fordham University in New York, who has followed her case. "She seems to be without parental or sibling support. And does she have any friends beyond those she parties with?"

Much of Hollywood is wringing hands but can't help, says Howard Bragman, veteran PR pro and celebrity rep.

"It's all just tragically sad," he says. "She has paid advisers, but I'm not sure anyone around her really cares.

"Everyone feels bad, but we can't want to fix it more than she wants to fix it."

Now the law is going to try to fix it, or at least attempt to influence her behavior.

Arraigned Wednesday in Los Angeles, Lohan pleaded not guilty to a charge stemming from the theft of $2,500 gold necklace from a Venice Beach jewelry store last month, just weeks after she was released from her latest stint in rehab for substance abuse.

If convicted, she could face up to three years in state prison. Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz set bail at $40,000 and warned her she would be jailed if she got into more trouble. "Everybody else has to follow the law. You're no different than anyone else, so please don't push your luck," he said.

Cohen says Lohan may need such a threat. "It seems as if the district attorney has decided (her behavior) is ridiculous and must come to an end, and they're going to be looking for at least a year, a meaningful year, not 30 days, in a secure facility, not a camp," if convicted, says Cohen. "Most experts think jail doesn't cure anything, but people are fed up. They think she needs to be punished in a meaningful way."

Lohan is still on probation from a 2007 drunken-driving charge; she has already been slapped for violating probation, was sentenced to rehab twice, and was jailed three times in the past three years. But she never spent much time there, either because of crowding or because the charge was a misdemeanor.

Lohan, through her attorney, Shawn Chapman Holley, has denied the charge of grand theft. But if she did it, why? Constantly surrounded by cameras — pictures of her walking out of the store are already all over the Internet — she could hardly have expected to get away with it. And she could certainly afford to pay for it.

"This is not the normal course" for someone just out of rehab, says John Sharp, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Harvard Medical School and executive medical director of the Bridges to Recovery treatment center in Pacific Palisades, Calif. "It does raise the question, is she too naive or too immature or too hellbent on self-destruction?"

Some substance abusers do steal to get money to feed their habit, he says, but that's probably not the case with Lohan. "So what is the point? Hasn't she learned anything?"

It's a cry for help, Bragman and Cohen say.

"It's almost as if she were asking for it," Cohen says. "She's self-destructive, can't set boundaries for herself, so she's asking others to set them. Unfortunately for her, the criminal justice system seems to be the only thing in her life prepared to set those boundaries."

If she is convicted, jail may be what she deserves, he says, but it's probably not going to help her much. "I don't think anyone can help her except intensive psychotherapy — and she won't get that in jail."

The jewelry case is not Lohan's only legal concern.

Prosecutors in Riverside County are considering whether to charge the actress with battery for an altercation with a rehab worker at the Betty Ford Center in December.