02/05/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
Who had the broccoli soup?" Sean "Puffy" Combs is asking in the hallway of the state supreme court building in New York City. It's lunchtime on Jan. 19, the third day of jury selection in Combs's trial for gun possession and bribery stemming from a Dec. 27, 1999, shootout at a Manhattan nightclub. The rapper turned music mogul is doling out cartons of deli takeout to members of his entourage—including one of his three lawyers, former O.J. Simpson defender Johnnie Cochran. "Who had the chicken sandwich?"
But there's been a different question on the minds of prospective jurors, court spectators, reporters and fans on hand for the opening phase of the trial: Where's Jennifer? Jennifer Lopez
, 31—the singer and actress who was with Combs, also 31, in his Lincoln Navigator speeding away from the shooting that December night—is nowhere to be seen today. And whether she will turn up as one of the 30 witnesses subpoenaed remains anyone's guess. "We're not discussing publicly who we're calling," says Benjamin Brafman, another of Combs's attorneys.
"I will testify if called," Lopez told the Today
show's Matt Lauer on Jan. 18, three days before she was in Beverly Hills for the Golden Globes. The melee at Club New York began when an unidentified patron reportedly insulted Combs by throwing a fistful of cash in his face. Police say that prompted codefendant Jamal Barrow, 22, a Combs protégé and rapper (known as Shyne), to fire several shots into the crowd, wounding a bouncer and two patrons. (Barrow was later charged with attempted murder.) Combs and Lopez (who has not been charged with any crime) fled immediately in the Lincoln, running 11 red lights as police gave chase. Combs is accused of offering his driver, Wardel Fenderson, 42, $50,000 to say that an unlicensed 9mm revolver (not the gun used in the shooting) that a witness said was thrown from the Lincoln was actually Fenderson's. Puffy's bodyguard Anthony Jones, 34, who was in the car with the couple, is also charged with attempting to bribe Fenderson and with having an unlicensed handgun (allegedly found under his seat). Both Combs and Jones face up to 15 years in prison, while codefendant Barrow faces 25 years.
Still, you wouldn't know from Combs's or Lopez's recent appearances that anything was amiss. Lopez was on Today
not to talk law and order but to promote her new movie, The Wedding Planner
, costarring Matthew McConaughey
, and her new album, J. Lo
, cowritten and coproduced in part by her boyfriend.
Combs, meanwhile, is shepherding the debut album of his white teen girl-group Dream and overseeing his $200 million business empire—that is, when he's not brown-bagging it at the courthouse. Arriving each day in a conservative dark suit, he eschews his trademark diamond pinkie ring and white Versace furs. But his fans seem to regard him as royalty nonetheless, and several of the 200 prospective jurors, seeing him at the defendants' table, nudged each other. One gasped, "Oh, my God!" Few seemed to be daunted by the prospect of a six-week trial. As Johnnie Cochran observed: "An awful lot of people want to serve."
Bob Meadows in New York City