Peterson attorney lives in limelight, fights for underdog

Peterson attorney lives in limelight, fights for underdog
By BRIAN SKOLOFF, Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 27, 2004, Thursday, BC cycle

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — He charms jurors, attorneys and judges with
his easygoing style. Lawyer to the stars, talk show pundit, the
mustachioed man in crisply pressed suits is now the man of the hour.

As lead defense attorney for Scott Peterson, Mark Geragos is the
former fertilizer salesman’s best hope of avoiding a death sentence
in the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their fetus.

Defendants are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty
– but Geragos has said police and prosecutors did all they could to
convict Peterson in the court of public opinion before a gag order
was imposed on the case.

That’s one reason why Geragos is so chummy with reporters – “What
drives me just crazy is when I think that somebody is getting a raw
deal,” he explains in an interview.

During breaks in the proceedings, Geragos saunters from the courthouse,
says a few well-chosen words, takes a couple of questions and strolls
off, cell phone to his ear.

That’s the face much of the world sees, a man who appears confident,
deliberate and deftly in charge of his surroundings, the kind of
attorney many friends and colleagues say they would want on their side.

Geragos was catapulted to fame after he secured acquittals for
Whitewater figure Susan McDougal and took on the cases of Winona Ryder,
former Congressman Gary Condit and rapper Nathaniel (Nate Dogg) Hale.

Beyond the cameras’ glare, Geragos is a man like any other – committed
to his job, his family and his Armenian-American culture.

“The thing that drives me is fighting for the underdog and taking on
causes that are generally not well recognized,” Geragos said. “Being
Armenian and having all four of my grandparents who fled genocide,
I have a great and deep and abiding appreciation for what it’s like
to be the subject of tyranny.”

One of his proudest achievements is a settlement in January that went
mostly unnoticed. The descendants of some 1.5 million Armenians who
were killed nearly 90 years ago in the Turkish Ottoman Empire will
share in a $20 million settlement for unpaid life insurance benefits.
Geragos served as plaintiffs’ attorney in the class action, which
took four years of work.

That’s why he took on the Peterson case, even as others assured him
it was a loser.

“The whole idea … is to defend people and to fight for their rights
and their liberties,” Geragos said.

Married with two children, Geragos, 46, is managing partner of a Los
Angeles law firm that includes his father and brother. The arrangement
allows them to take cases at no charge, if the cause is right. “I’m
the luckiest lawyer on the planet that I’ve got the kind of practice
that I do.”

Geragos was defending both Peterson and Michael Jackson, until the
pop star complained his child molestation defense wasn’t getting
enough attention. Geragos shrugged off his firing, saying only that
“I truly, truly wish him well and am hopeful for a favorable outcome
for Michael.”

His friend and fellow Los Angeles attorney Harland Braun says Geragos
“understands people more than most lawyers do.”

Another thing he understands, according to Geragos’ co-counsel Pat
Harris, is that high-profile clients cannot be defended solely inside
courtrooms – not when jurors are constantly in danger of being exposed
to every supermarket tabloid take on the trial.

Geragos has lost his share of cases, but even the best lose some,
according to Shepard Kopp, a lawyer at his firm. “That’s the ultimate
challenge. As a trial lawyer, you take cases that appear to be
unwinnable and you find a way to win.”