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Bess Mess Created a Celebrity: Sukhreet Gabel With AM-Myerson Trial

December 23, 1988 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ It began as the Bess Mess, but at times it seemed to have turned into the Sukhreet Circus. Even as the trial of Bess Myerson was threatening to destroy the career of one celebrity, it was creating another.

She was Sukhreet Gabel, daughter of the judge whom Miss Myerson allegedly tried to influence.

Throughout the trial, her antics - which included singing in a cabaret and having a facial makeover on television - amused, enraged and generally fascinated New Yorkers.

No one seemed quite certain what to make of this bubbly, rotund woman who spoke candidly of undergoing electroshock therapy for depression, who spoke of her love for her mother as she testified against her, and who giggled as she discussed obscene telephone calls to her home.

″I’ve been portrayed as mad by more people than I can count,″ Ms. Gabel said. ″And I’ve gone public to say to people, ’Well, see how mad you think I am.‴

Ms. Gabel, 39, went public in a big way. She spent nine days on the witness stand testifying as the prosecution’s star witness against her mother, former state Supreme Court Justice Hortense Gabel, and Miss Myerson, the 1945 Miss America and the city’s former cultural affairs commissioner.

Ms. Gabel allegedly was hired by Ms. Myerson for a $19,000-a-year city job in order to influence Mrs. Gabel. The 75-year-old judge was handling the divorce case of Ms. Myerson’s lover, Carl ″Andy″ Capasso.

A federal jury Thursday evening acquitted the three of all charges.

Ms. Gabel stood beside her mother after the verdict, gently rubbing the ex- judge’s shoulder while congratulating her.

While Mrs. Gabel told reporters her daughter had simply told the truth and supported her, U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani admitted the government might have been better off with a more stable witness than the flighty Sukhreet.

″In many, many cases we bring, there are witnesses with a whole history of problems,″ said Giuliani. ″You don’t have the chance to pick your witnesses.″

The scene between the Gabels after the verdict came as no surprise to those who watched Mrs. Gabel warmly greeting her daughter each day as the younger woman arrived to testify against her.

″My mother and I have truly never gotten along better,″ said Ms. Gabel.

She insisted her testimony contained ″no smoking gun″ that proved her mother’s guilt, nor any clear evidence that would exonerate her.

But, she added: ″Based on what I know of my mother ... corruption and the selling of office is about the farthest thing I can think of from her modus operandi.″

Ms. Gabel’s own modus operandi has included a wide streak of zaniness, best exemplified by her cabaret performance at a recent birthday party for Village Voice columnist Michael Musto. Among the songs she sang: ″Let the Punishment Fit the Crime.″

She also appeared on a television talk show, ″People are Talking,″ to receive new makeup, hairstyle and clothes selected by a fashion consultant.

Ms. Gabel - who changed her name from Julie Bess to an Indian word for ’happiness″ - clearly has enjoyed her celebrity.

Her next step?

″I guess I’ll breathe a sigh of relief and look for a job,″ she said after the verdict.

She is thinking of writing a book, and has toyed with the idea of a career in ″news and entertainment″ - two fields she knows intimately by now.