Transcript of “Frozen in Time: A Riveting Behind-the-Scenes View of the Michael Jackson Cases”, Part 3. CARL DOUGLAS
Part 3 of this series deals with the statements given by so-called defense attorney Carl Douglas. Pay attention to what he says, but more importantly, pay attention to what he does NOT say!
Transcript of “Frozen in Time: A Riveting Behind-the-Scenes View of the Michael Jackson Cases”, Part 3
Seth Hufstedler: Now we’d like to hear from Carl, who represented Michael in that case, as well as in various other matters about his versions on what happened, in particularly how you really defended the King of Pop? How do you deal with all this press? How do you do it in an ethical manner? And how you try to get a fair result for your client?
Carl Douglas: Thank you Seth. I want to first thank Seth, and David & Harry Hathaway for having this panel. And I thank all of you for coming out and being a part. I was a part of one of these “Frozen in Time” talks last year, and it’s a pleasure being invited back again. I want to take you back to 1993, to really appreciate and understand the dilemma that we faced as lawyers. 1993 was before the internet, before YouTube, before TMZ. It was before what has now become known as “checkbook journalism”. The British press are relentless, and their relentlessness was no more greater demonstrated than with the zeal which they pursued the Michael Jackson matter. In 1993 I was a 38 year old lawyer who had experience in both the criminal and civil plaintiff arenas. I was working for the 6th of my 12 years for Johnnie Cochran, who was at that time “the man” here, criminally, in Los Angeles. Mr. Cochran was at that time known for having a unique blend of skills. He had represented several high profile criminal and civil cases in the past. He had successfully defended an actor, Todd Bridges, a few years before. And he had made his name in the police arena representing the family of Ron Settles, who had been killed by police. So Johnnie Cochran came to Michael Jackson with a unique skill set that he found very appealing. We were first detained for that case in December 1993, and that was the lowest point of Michael Jackson’s career, up until that phase in his life. As Larry suggested, he was on the Dangerous tour. He had been touring in Europe, and because of some health problems, and concerns about his case, he had to cancel that tour with these allegations swirling around him. He had also, right before we had been retained, had secretively checked into a treatment program to deal with some prescription drug issues, which really become more relevant in later years surrounding his death. And at that time there was a joint criminal and civil investigation, not only being conducted by Gil Garcetti and the DA’s office, but also by Tom Sneddon, one of Mr. Zonen’s colleagues in the Santa Barbara DA’s office. And at that time, a few weeks from Christmas, Michael was basically afraid of returning back to the USA, because he feared if he did, he might be arrested, and that would have been the death knell to Michael Jackson and his entire world. At that point, he had been represented by Bert Fields, who was a well-known entertainment lawyer, by Howard Weitzman and his firm as well, and Michael decided to retain Johnnie Cochran and his firm to assist, basically to replace Bert Fields’ office because they thought that the skills set that Johnnie and his firm bought to bare was consistent with both the criminal and civil allegations that he was then being confronted with. I remember initially there had not been any effort by any of his lawyers to contact the DA’s office to see if there were charges pending, or to see if they would arrest him. The first thing that Johnnie did that when he was retained was to have a conversation with Gil Garcetti. One thing about Johnnie was he was well connected in Los Angeles, both in front of the scene, and behind the scenes. And back in the early 80s, he had been a colleague of Gil’s under the leadership of John Bandycamp.. And that friend ship was something that he was able to call on, to see if there was ever any fear of Michael returning back to Santa Barbara. And when he told that he was not, there was then a celebrated return to Neverland, which was a fabulous place that I’ll tell you about later. And that is basically how we began to embark on that case.
One of the thrills of my life as a 38 year old guy, and I was maybe 4 or 5 years older than Michael at that time, was to meet the King of Pop. I had all of his music, I was a big fan, and it was a thrilling occasion just to have the opportunity to work on his particular matter. Michael and I developed a particular affinity for each other. I was one of the first African American professionals that he had ever retained, and because he and I were close in age, we kind of bonded. And because I was the managing lawyer in Johnnie’s office, and I had a blend of both criminal and civil experiences as well, I was assigned the task of being Johnnie’s right hand man working on this particular case. I remember sitting in private negotiations with Larry and three judges trying to work out some resolution to this case. I remember the sage words of one of the judges “It’s not about how much this case is worth; it’s about what it’s worth to Michael Jackson!” And ultimately that was an argument that had resonance as we bandied about some extraordinary numbers in 1993. The numbers were extraordinary for even 2010, but in 1993 they were really some fabulous numbers that were being bandied about.
I remember travelling to Las Vegas, and the Mirage hotel in January 1994, because I was the one that presented the settlement agreement to Michael. He was staying in a Bungalow there. And I remember knocking on the door and him saying “Hello, who’s there?”, and I said “Carl”, he said “OK Hi Carl? How are you?” (In a high pitched imitation of MJ, with much laughter from the audience.) And I remember that I was a witness on all of the lines on the settlement agreement. And after that case was resolved, our firm continued to work as his personal lawyer, basically through the beginning of the criminal trial. I remember that we were present for some other trials that he was engaged in, because once there was the initial matter of Jackson one, there were litigants that came out of the woodwork, everywhere, left and right. I remember when we were involved working on his divorce with Lisa Marie Presley, which is whole ‘nother seminar, I can tell you that! (Laughter!) I remember that I was involved with decisions about transitioning from Mark Geragos, who was then representing Scott Peterson, to Benjamin Brathman, who was a lawyer from New York. And by that time, in the early 2000s, Johnnie had moved to New York. And I was not clear, because I had left his office some years before at how sick he had become by then. And he basically used me as a surrogate to try to persuade Michael to transition to from Geragos to Ben Brathman. I remember being concerned because Scott Peterson did not seem to be a very winnable trial. And I was fearful that if Mark Geragos continued as Michael’s lawyer, then throughout his trial his lawyer would be referred to as “the lawyer who represented Scott Peterson”. And I thought that was a terrible tag that would always hang on his defense throughout the pendency of Jackson two. So I was very happy when decisions were made, not only to transition from Geragos to Brathman, but then to transition from Ben to Tom Mesereau. I could remember recommending Tom Mesereau as someone who I had tremendous respect over the years, and who I thought would be able to do a suitable job on his behalf. In terms of Jackson one, Larry is tremendously accurate when he talks about the respect and the trust that Johnnie and Larry Feldman shared among themselves. He’s also correct that the decision that was hotly contested, in terms of having a trial in that case, set in 120 days was a devastating tactical loss for our team, and it was significantly powering efforts in trying to resolve the case. This entire experience is one that I will certainly take to my grave.
I was one who, because I was one of the more junior lawyers, would be given the “kook” role, and so when we had to hire another secretary just to act as a receptionist. I had several conversations with a woman who swore she was “Billie Jean”, and “the child is hers”. But there were all kinds of not only “kooks”, but “soothe-sayers” and people who claimed to have important information, and all of those potential leads had to be vetted, and yours truly was often given the first obligation to go forward and to try to figure out where the truth lies. In our case, at least once Mr. Cochran became involved, there was never a discussion of a gag order. I worked for Johnnie for twelve and a half years, and he never shied away from a camera or a microphone, so that was something that was considered well before we became involved in the case. Representing someone who is of the acclaim of Michael Jackson is a tremendous, tremendous burden. For me, it heightened the importance of trying to do a job well, because I knew that anything that would be done would ultimately be scrutinized by lawyers and talking heads across the world. Tabloid journalism was a tremendous concern that we had in those days. This was, in fact, one of the first high-profile cases, and Larry talks about the scene that took place on January 25th, 1994. That was the day that the settlement of the Michael Jackson matter was going to be announced. In fact, I was able to find some statements in my records of both a version of the facts that Larry was going to read, that all parties signed off on. And there was a version that Johnnie was going to read that all parties signed off on. There were probably 15 or 20 satellite trucks. There were 50 or more members of the media. Whenever you see those scenes, you’ll see my head sticking in the back, right between Larry and Johnnie. And I’ll remember always the scene as we were walking away from that press statement. Johnnie called me “son”. He said “Son, take a look at this. Because you will probably never see a sight like this again.” And I remember just one year later, January 1995, we were driving in my car that I was able to buy after the Michael Jackson case, I had a little bit of money on the side (laughter!), and we were driving around Broadway, turning right unto Temple. And there was a phalanx of reporters and media. They had police officers just to control the crowd. And I looked and I said “Dad, what about this?” It was indeed a remarkable experience.
Working on a high profile case both has its detriments, and it has its benefits. I like to tell colleagues of mine, who I speak with about the publicity, that publicity is like crack cocaine, or like what I hear about crack cocaine! (Laughter!) Because it can make you lose your mind. And I’m always instructing other lawyers that it’s not all that it’s made out to be. It’s a tremendously important possibility that can be fraught with all kinds of dangers. I remember that the experience that I had, and that I drew then, taught me a lot about when I was involved in the mother of all high-profile cases at the time, which was the OJ Simpson case. And the experience of having that trial televised became a lesson that both litigants and I’m sure judges took to heart. It’s difficult having your daily work scrutinized by a camera, or analyzed by people who don’t really know the nuances or the subtleties of what’s going on each day. I can imagine if there was a camera watching a mechanic tuning an engine: “Look! He’s using that kind of wrench, instead of another kind of wrench!” It places tremendous stress on you as a professional. Tremendous burdens on you as an individual. But it can also be very rewarding on you as well because, in the Michael Jackson case, at its essence, Johnnie and I were plaintiff lawyers. And plaintiff lawyers, as I’m sure anyone can tell you, enjoy the opportunity to have their names in lights, or to have their faces in front of cameras, and the media. It is something that we relish, and that we yearn for many times. And we found that, particularly since I’ve had both a criminal and a civil experience, civil lawyers yearn for the publicity that criminal lawyers can enjoy, and criminal lawyers yearn for the money that civil lawyers make! (Laughter!)
But the experience is one that I will continue to take with me, and I thank you for allowing me to share some of my thoughts with you today.
Seth Hufstedler: Well, ladies in my 88 years I have listened to quite a few presentations about legal issues and legal matters, and I must say that the gentlemen before us have done a marvelous job, and reveal a lot a wisdom and learning that we won’t often hear. We’ve reached our point for a break, and I have a couple things to say. We will come back and hear about the second Michael Jackson matter, the trial this time, and the participants in that. But for all of you who have questions, remember to deliver them over here, and we’ll be able to take a look at them before you leave.
(Everyone returns from break.)
We’ve spent a lot of time on the first case, and I must tell you that I felt that the two speakers did a very fine job illustrating a couple of things. First of all, these were lawsuits in which there was a lot of emotional tension. And you had up here a couple of experienced lawyers, taking their time, telling you exactly what happened. And I thought that the two of them did a fabulous job establishing one other thing: that first Jackson one was settled, and the settlement did both sides a great deal of good, and it illustrates one of the important principles that we all have to deal with as lawyers, and that is: if the lawyers can trust each other, and work together, it works out very much better for their clients. They come out with some sensible answers, they have less hassle, and that’s one way to get things done. And particularly the younger lawyers, and if the older lawyers don’t know this, then I don’t know why they haven’t learned this. The best way to practice law is to learn how to trust the people on the other side, and have them trust you. Now we should turn to the criminal case. We do have a few questions which we will come to, but some of them also relate to the criminal case, so I thought that we should have the criminal presentation now. And we will have the two primary participants beyond the most important participant, the judge that we’ve already heard from, and you’ll hear from again. So first of all, we’ll hear from the prosecuting attorney Mr. Zonen, who you’ll hear from next.
Analysis of Carl Douglas’ Statements:
1. “It was before what has now become known as “checkbook journalism”. The British press are relentless, and their relentlessness was no more greater demonstrated than with the zeal which they pursued the Michael Jackson matter.” You hit the nail on the head, Carl! This is probably the best thing that you said throughout the entire seminar, which is truly pathetic considering how much exculpatory information that you were privy to back then, and that you could have (and should have!) revealed to everyone.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, in 1994 Frontline (a documentary news program) dedicated an entire episode to the MJ scandal. The title was very oxymoronic! It was called “Tabloid Truth: The Michael Jackson Scandal”. (You can watch it here in its entirety.) The term “checkbook journalism” is pretty self-explanatory; it refers to the practice of paying exorbitant amounts of money for interviews or sources to a story, REGARDLESS of whether there is any truth to what they are being paid to say. (And here is the checkbook journalism’s “big brother”, yellow journalism, which is defined as “is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers”.)
Here is a perfect example of checkbook journalism: in 1993, the National Enquirer tracked down a former acquaintance of the Jackson family named Ronald Newt Sr. He and his twin sons Robert and Ronald Jr. stayed at the Hayvenhurst compound in 1985 for two weeks. Joe, Katherine, Michael, Janet, and Latoya Jackson were all residing there at that time.
After the scandal hit the airwaves, the National Enquirer essentially had a bounty on finding any other “victims” of MJ, and they actively sought any and everyone who had ever met MJ, hoping to be the first tabloid to break the “bombshell” news that there is another victim. So to make a long story short, they offered Ronald Newt Sr. a whopping $200k dollars to say that his boys were molested!! Coming from a poor background, he contemplated the offer (after all, he’s only human!), but then rejected it outright.
If you have any doubts as to the vicious, malicious, and heinous motives of the tabloids, then this quote will remove that doubt! From Robert Newt, who was 18 years old in December 1993 when he was offered the money to lie:
“He said, ‘Say he grabbed you on the butt. Say he grabbed you and touched you in any kind of way,'” Newt said. “He told us he took all these people down. Now he was going to take Michael down. That he would really destroy him. He told us he took all these other famous people down. All the major people that had scandals against them. He said, ‘We take these people down. That’s what we do.'”
That comment should send chills down your spine, because it exposes the tabloids (and the people who plagiarize them, like Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth) for the ruthless, lying, blood sucking, cold-hearted, demonic people that they are. Instead of offering that $200k to somebody to lie and put an innocent man in prison, why not donate that money to organizations that help survivors of child abuse? Oh, that’s right, it’s because they don’t have a heart, or a conscience, and they couldn’t care less about child abuse survivors!
The good thing that came out of this story, after nobody accepted their blood money, is when the editor of the Enquirer said “maybe there aren’t any other kids”. Gee, you think?
Another piece of good news that I’d like to report here is that the publisher of Enquirer has recently filed for bankruptcy! They claim that they will still continue to publish this trash rag, but let’s hope for its demise anyway.
2. “And at that time, a few weeks from Christmas, Michael was basically afraid of returning back to the USA, because he feared if he did, he might be arrested, and that would have been the death knell to Michael Jackson and his entire world.” & “And when he told that he was not, there was then a celebrated return to Neverland, which was a fabulous place that I’ll tell you about later. “ What kind of a defense attorney are you, Carl? Why are you telling the world that your client was afraid of being arrested? (Due to the public relations nightmare that an arrest would cause.) Everyone in the world knows that MJ was afraid of being arrested, despite his innocence, so why do you need to blurt it out to everyone? MJ haters will pounce on this and try to say that “MJ was afraid of being arrested because he knew he was guilty!” And what the heck do you mean by a “celebrated return”? What was there for MJ to celebrate? Especially with the knowledge that he would be subjected to an embarrassing strip search?
Now of course, knowledgeable MJ fans can easily prove his innocence, but that’s not the point. It’s something that can be misconstrued as a sign of guilt on MJ’s part, and it shouldn’t have been said. Period.
Carl, next time you talk to an audience about MJ’s 1993 case, why don’t you follow David Nordahl’s advice, and provide a decent explanation of what happened, the way he did here in his recent interview with Debbie Kunesh of Reflections on the Dance website:
“I was working on sketches for his film production company, called “Lost Boys Productions”….Sony had given him (Michael) $40 million to start this production company and that little boy’s dad (Evan Chandler), who considered himself to be show business material, because he had written part of a script….after that he considered himself a Hollywood screenwriter, and being friends with Michael and his son being friends with Michael, this guy had assumed that Michael was going to make him a partner in this film production company and that’s where the $20 million figure came from. He wanted ½ of that Sony money. It was proven. It was an extortion. Michael listened to his business advisors and they all told him to keep his mouth shut and to go on to Korea, go on with your tour, you’re in the middle of a tour. We’ll take care of it….”
3. “I remember initially there had not been any effort by any of his lawyers to contact the DA’s office to see if there were charges pending, or to see if they would arrest him. The first thing that Johnnie did that when he was retained was to have a conversation with Gil Garcetti.” I think that this is indicative of the incompetent services provided by the “Three Stooges”, AKA Bert Fields, Howard Weitzman, and (to a lesser extent) Anthony Pellicano. Fields and Weitzman should have been in constant contact with Garcetti and Sneddon about the status of the investigation, and MJ should have been notified immediately, instead of having to play a guessing game with his freedom. Notice how strongly worded Douglas was: he said that “initially there had not been any effort by any of his lawyers to contact the DA’s office to see if there were charges pending” There is no ambiguity there!
Thankfully, Johnnie Cochran brought some level of competence to the case, although his level of objectivity was highly compromised due to his “friendship” with Larry Feldman. One has to wonder if Douglas and Cochran came on the case BECAUSE they were friends with Feldman?
4. “I remember sitting in private negotiations with Larry and three judges trying to work out some resolution to this case. I remember the sage words of one of the judges “It’s not about how much this case is worth; it’s about what it’s worth to Michael Jackson!” The word “sage” (which was said in reference to the opinion of the judges) means “somebody who is regarded as knowledgeable, wise, and experienced, especially a man of advanced years revered for his wisdom and good judgment”. So what the heck was so “sage” about asking how much this case is worth to Michael Jackson? Once again, you have to question the objectivity of the people involved in the negotiations. He didn’t seem to be too concerned for MJ by making a statement like that, because this case was worth so much more than just money to MJ! It was worth something that is far more valuable, that cannot be bought, but only earned, and that is his reputation! Once that case hit the press, MJ’s reputation was forever tarnished, REGARDLESS of the outcome of the case!
5. “He’s also correct that the decision that was hotly contested, in terms of having a trial in that case, set in 120 days was a devastating tactical loss for our team, and it was significantly powering efforts in trying to resolve the case.” This is where Evan Chandler won the case, and where Michael Jackson lost the case. It was Evan’s goal from the beginning to just get money, and if he truly wanted justice, then he never would have sued MJ in the first place. It’s amazing to me why nobody in the media has ever criticized the Chandlers for this move. At this point, there was nothing MJ could do. He rejected the Chandler’s extortion attempt in August 1993, his legal team fought and failed to have the civil trial delayed until after the criminal trial, and he voluntarily went through the strip search, so what more could he do?
6. “we were driving in my car that I was able to buy after the Michael Jackson case, I had a little bit of money on the side” This comment was absolutely unprofessional and classless. Everybody knows that you earned hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, from “defending” MJ, so you don’t need to flaunt it to everyone.
Would Mesereau ever say anything like this? I don’t think so!
7. “the settlement did both sides a great deal of good” & “if the lawyers can trust each other, and work together, it works out very much better for their clients. They come out with some sensible answers, they have less hassle, and that’s one way to get things done.” Yeah Seth, I’m sure when the opposing lawyers and judges are all friends with each other, then it’s really easy to trust each other, work together, and come out with sensible answers with less hassle! And even though the settlement did “both sides a great deal of good”, we all know it did a lot MORE good to the Chandlers than it did for MJ!
In closing, did you guys notice what Douglas did NOT say? He didn’t say anything to truly defend MJ, or debunk any of the false rumors (such as Jordie giving an accurate description, MJ “paying off” the Chandlers, etc.)