Jackson and His Legal Team Part Ways

The New York Times

Jackson and His Legal Team Part Ways


Published: April 26, 2004

LOS ANGELES, April 25 – Michael Jackson has replaced his legal team just
days before he is scheduled to be arraigned on child molesting charges, the
departing lawyers said Sunday.

One of the lawyers, Benjamin Brafman, a New York criminal defense lawyer
hired by Mr. Jackson shortly after felony child molesting charges were
announced in December, said in an interview on Sunday that serious conflicts
had been brewing for weeks between Mr. Jackson’s legal team and a large
group of family members and others advising him.

“This is a decision that was unavoidable under the circumstances,” Mr.
Brafman said. “Mark Geragos and I are stepping down – or as the Jackson camp
is suggesting, being replaced. The fact is, this point was coming to a head
over a number of complicated legal and practical issues that it would be
inappropriate to discuss at this time.”

Mr. Geragos confirmed that he would no longer represent Mr. Jackson. He is
the lead defense lawyer in another prominent case, the murder prosecution of
Scott Peterson of Modesto, Calif. Mr. Peterson is accused of killing his
pregnant wife, Laci, in late 2002.

The Associated Press reported that Mr. Jackson’s defense would now be led by
Thomas Mesereau Jr., a Los Angeles lawyer whose best-known recent client was
the actor Robert Blake, who is charged with murdering his wife, Bonny Lee
Bakley, three years ago.

In February, Mr. Blake dismissed Mr. Mesereau, the third lawyer who has
represented him in the case.

In an interview on Sunday with The Associated Press, Mr. Mesereau declined
to answer questions. “I’ll have no comment on the developments until I
appear in court Friday,” he said, referring to a pretrial hearing where Mr.
Jackson is expected to be arraigned.

The indictment against Mr. Jackson is under seal until his arraignment, and
he is free on $3 million bail.

Mr. Mesereau, whose clients have also included the former heavyweight boxing
champion Mike Tyson, has reportedly been meeting with Mr. Jackson at a
compound in the Orlando, Fla., area, where the singer is staying with his

The changes in Mr. Jackson’s legal lineup come just four days after a grand
jury in Santa Barbara, Calif., indicted him on charges of child molesting.

Members of his previous legal team had said late last week that they were
preparing to challenge the grand jury indictment on legal and procedural

The authorities in Santa Barbara County charged Mr. Jackson in December with
seven counts of child molesting and two counts of administering alcohol to a
minor. The charges involve a then-13-year-old boy who was an overnight guest
at Mr. Jackson’s Neverland Ranch outside of Santa Barbara on several
occasions early last year.

The Santa Barbara grand jury handed up a sealed indictment of Mr. Jackson
last week after 13 days of closed-door testimony. At the Friday hearing, a
judge is expected to set a schedule for trial.

Mr. Brafman said that despite differences with Mr. Jackson and his camp over
legal strategy, he wished the singer well.

“I hope with all my heart that at then end of this ordeal he is in fact
exonerated,” Mr. Brafman said.

Mr. Jackson, 45, has long been surrounded by family members, including his
parents and his brothers, with whom he performed as a child as a member of
the Jackson 5 before starting his successful solo career. He has also, more
recently, been advised by leaders of the Nation of Islam and others who have
advocated a more aggressive response to the current allegations.