Transcript of the 2005 Harvard Law Seminar on Race and Justice, part 4: Q & A Session
This is the final part of this series on the 2005 Harvard Law seminar, and I saved the best for last! A seminar is only as good as the guest speakers that it can attract, and the questions that are asked to those guest speakers by the audience. There were some great questions asked, and they were far more detailed and substantive than those that were asked at the Frozen In Time seminar.
There was even a question from somone who identified herself as being a member of the MJ fan community!
Question and Answer Session:
Charles Ogletree: Thank you Martha. We’ll take questions now for the panel. There are two microphones right there, if you want to get a question, and we’re going to have each one of our panelists turn their mic’s on. And we’ll take our first question right here, to the right:
Audience Member #1: I’ll direct this question to Tom Mesereau. This is something that is kind of delicate, and I understand if you want to skirt the question, but in general terms, a lawyer of your caliber would charge what kind of an hourly rate when you’re not doing pro bono work? Not you personally, but people on your level, let’s say.
Tom Mesereau: It really depends on the case.
Audience Member #1: The range?
Tom Mesereau: It could be a flat fee, and not a terribly large one at that, if it’s a case that I want for particular reasons, or it could be a very, very high fee. If it’s someone who has the money, and involves a lot of forensic work, so it’s really hard to answer the question. I can’t. I’ve taken cases from no money to a lot of money. It really depends on the case.
Audience member #2: This question is also directed at Mr. Mesereau. While you were speaking, you brought up your very diligent defense of individuals, and I respect that, but one thing that was a little bit troubling to me was that, in that defense, it seems as though the overarching needs of the community may tend to suffer. You said you didn’t want Jesse Jackson there. You didn’t want Al Sharpton there. My question is, when can you strike a balance between uplifting a community in general, and maintaining a diligent defense of your client? Or is that better saved for appeals?
Tom Mesereau: Well, let me ask you a question. Do you mind if I ask you a question? Would the black community had been better off if Jesse and Al had been there, and Michael had been convicted?
Audience Member #2: but I don’t pretend to speak for the black community.
Tom Mesereau: But you know what I’m saying? Well, let me explain. First of all, I think as I said before, my primary obligation was to Michael Jackson, and to no one else. I really mean that. I was at a judicial conference recently at the University of Nevada, Reno with some judges and media people, and the media people were really attacking me for supporting the gag order, and for supporting sealing orders, where pleadings were sealed. And I looked at one person and I said “With all due respect, my job is not to vindicate the First Amendment, my job is to save my client’s life in this case.” And I really believe that was my primary obligation here. But as I said before, there have been cases where the client, and the lawyer, got together and decided that the primary obligation of both of them was to make a political statement, make a moral statement, make a social statement, and they wanted to make sure that was done, and the Mr. Kunstler, who I mentioned before, was someone who did that quite often. Mr. Darrow, who I mentioned before, did that quite often, and was attacked for taking cases and trying to present a social issue far broader than the future and freedom of his client. There is a struggle there, in terms of values, and I think you have to work that out with the client. I really believe in the cases that I mentioned –well, not the first case, where I felt that I had to absolutely go all out to raise a racial issue and expose what the prosecution was doing in the case, and what the FBI was doing in the case, and their racist statements, and their racist motives, and the fact that they would never do this in a white community, how they targeted this black community for four years, went into churches, went in everywhere and were recording people. There was some other evidence also; there was one white city council member who they just brushed off very quickly, and didn’t really just keep after her like they did the black members of the council. But in the other two cases, first of all I did not think that there was a racial issue to raise in the Michael Jackson case, and I said that before. In the Larry Carol case, there certainly was. They went after three black men, and let the white men get a pass. But I still thought the best way to acquit my client was not raising it. And frankly, when I mentioned my reasons to black activists, they all said “Fine. Win the case. We want you to win the case. We want him vindicated.” And by the way, after that, when asked, I wasn’t hesitant to say “How come the white guys who put these fraud scams together were never touched? And the three black men who were sucked in and told they would get commissions – and one of whom, my client, who even invested himself in it, thinking it was legitimate – how come they went after them tooth and nail?” I don’t know if I’ve answered your question. It’s a value judgment. It’s a compromise of something, and you have to decide what your primary obligation is as a defense lawyer.
Charles Ogletree: Let me ask Martha and Dan to make a brief comment on that because there is also the role of the media and prosecutors in both the Peterson case and Jackson case. Gloria Allred, for example, was on the news every night, there for the victims. A great story for the media, but the question is whether or not an important aspect of the government’s case. Your sense about whether or not a “victim’s advocate” is someone you want sitting next to you, or attending a press conference, or playing a role in your case Martha, as a prosecutor. And Dan, is there an appeal to the media whether or not either side likes it, to get people like that, like Gloria Allred, who are very well known, or controversial, who will generate some interest the debate?
Martha Coakley: well, I still think that we do this case by case. We do cases by facts, not because a “victim’s advocate” is out because there’s a victim, or defense lawyers are out because this person is black or purple, and so that’s important that we do it that way. Whenever other evidence comes in, the rhetoric rises and we lose sight of what we’re trying to do is figure in this case, did this person do what we said they did? And that’s where all the other stuff comes in. Now, it happens in a trial, child abuse cases in particular, people bring a lot of baggage about child abuse , and who does it, and who doesn’t, and “where’s the forensics, and the CSI people?”, and all of that stuff. But as a prosecutor, we’re prohibited from commenting, especially during a trial. We don’t really want anyone else doing it. And keep in mind, presumably your jury is sequestered, and whatever else is going on while that trial is occurring, your jury isn’t and shouldn’t be seen by them. If the rest of the world does, so be it.
Dan Abrams: I love victims’ rights advocates because at trial, this again goes to the difference between what we’re doing, which I view as trying to access the totality of the circumstances and the truth, versus what I view sometimes as legal fictions inside courtrooms. A criminal trial is between a state and a defendant. And I think that, rightly so, inside the courtroom we limit the amount of say a victim can have. I have no problem with having that victim’s advocate have their say in terms of the court of public perception. To be honest, whether it’s one person or another person, it depends. But I also we can be honest about saying “This is what this person does”, and there’s no ambiguity. Sometimes I get concerned when we say “a former prosecutor or criminal defense attorney”. I like the viewer to know where the person is coming from. To me that adds a level of intellectual honesty to the presentation.
Charles Ogetree: Question to the right, and then to the left.
Audience Member #3: Thank goodness for people’s skepticism of the media. I hope you keep doing your job because you create more skepticism, the way you’re doing your job. Since the prosecution heaped so many charges on Michael Jackson, the fact that it wasn’t sequestered, do you think that stacked the deck against you, and do you think that putting all those charges on Jackson guaranteed the prosecution could get at least one conviction? Mr. Abrams kept saying at the end of the trial “I thought he was going to get convicted of at least one charge!” And also, the prior victim or alleged victim, why didn’t you try to force him to get on the stand and to break him down? Or could that have been done?
Tom Mesereau: Well first of all, as I said before, I had great faith in the jury, but it was more of an intuitive feeling than anything else. I didn’t want them sequestered. I think a sequestered jury is an unhappy jury, an uncomfortable jury, and I always fear that that will hurt the defense. I also felt they were a very stubbornly individualistic and very honorable group who would listen to the judge’s instructions and avoid the media, and indeed since the trial they have said that they didn’t know certain things were being said out there. They made a very, very strong effort not to watch tv, and not to read the papers. So I put my trust in them, in that regard. As far as loading up on charges, I think it clearly was a prosecutorial tactic. They really only wanted him convicted on one, to get what they wanted. I always felt the conspiracy charge was bogus from day one, and we used it to help our side out. They had a conspiracy charge that Michael Jackson had organized a conspiracy to abduct children, falsely imprison a family, and commit extortion. And I think the more the jury learned what kind of a person he is, the more absurd those charges became. I think the prosecution did it for a lot of reasons, some of the tactical, some of them strategic. I think I said before that if they just used these charges to dirty Jackson up, then it would be possible that something would fall out in their favor. And they also, in my opinion, were trying to use the conspiracy charge to allow hearsay evidence that normally would not be admitted. The exception to the prohibition on hearsay, and that’s called co-conspirator hearsay, and what this allowed the mother to do is come in and say “All these people said A,B,C,D, and E”, and whereas she normally would not be allowed to say that because it would be hearsay, because there’s an exception if there’s a conspiracy charge. They also did it to scare these alleged conspirators away so they wouldn’t come in with the defense, and come in and exonerate Michael Jackson. But I think in the process of pursuing what I think is a very disingenuous allegation, they undercut their own credibility because along with the charges looking absurd, and the evidence just looking absurd, there was a timing problem because, as we pointed out, they tried to claim that Michael Jackson formed a conspiracy because this Bashir documentary had aired, which was very unflattering, and he then formed a conspiracy to make this family to make statements that exonerated him, and then disappear to Brazil, and the molestation is supposed to start in the middle of all of this. And it just didn’t make any sense. And I think they really hurt themselves by bringing these crazy charges because it also allowed me to just point out “You can’t believe what they’re saying or doing.” They will almost just say anything to dirty up Michael Jackson.
Charles Ogletree: Next question.
Audience Member #3: First case?
Tom Mesereau: Pardon me? Oh, first case. You know, this is interesting because anyone who followed knew about the issue of 1108 evidence, which in California is known as “prior bad acts” evidence, and what California allows, and few states do allow, is in a case like this you can bring in evidence of other alleged similar acts, even if they were never charged with a crime, and even if they are not the essence of the charge in this particular case. So what they said in their opening statement is that “We have evidence that five young men were molested, and we’re going to present all of that to you.” And what’s worse, it appears, is that the judge did something that I’ve never seen happen in a case, with respect to three of those alleged five victims, he allowed witnesses to come in and say they saw them molested, without the prosecution having to bring the alleged victims in, OK? So they did that. They put on three guards who worked at Neverland to say they saw these three people molested, one of whom was Macaulay Culkin, the actor. Now, those three guards had sued Michael Jackson, claiming that they wrongfully terminated him, and he cross complained, saying that they had stolen property from him, and it was the longest civil trial in the history of Santa Maria. They lost their case, Jackson won his cross-complaint, won a million dollar judgment against them, there were findings of judicial fraud against them, they had gone to the tabloids and sold stories, and the three people they say they saw molested, they were my first three witnesses and said they were never touched! So when that happened, I think we were able to effectively say to the jury “Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t believe what these prosecutors. You can’t believe their case. They’ll say anything to try and win.” Now, the one you’re talking about never showed up. He’s the one that got a settlement in the early nineties. Now my understanding is that prosecutors tried to get him to show up, and he wouldn’t. If he had, I had witnesses who were going to come in and say he told them it never happened, and he would never talk to his parents again for what they made him say, and it turns out he had gone into court and gotten legal emancipation from his parents. His mother testified that she hadn’t talked to him in eleven years. So there was a problem there as well. There was a fifth alleged victim who testified, and said that Michael Jackson had been playing with him, and had gone too far and touched his testicles, and he needed five years of therapy. And during the first therapy session, the DA was present. And he also admitted that he wanted money from him, and his mother wanted money from Jackson, and his mother went to a tabloid and sold a story as well. So you put all that together, and I submit that it helped us. (Note: this quote can be heard in this video.)
Charles Ogletree: Next question? We’ve got about four more minutes.
Audience Member #4: With all due respect, I think that the trial of the century was neither OJ nor Michael, but the trial of the century happened in the early nineties, where it was found that Martin Luther King’s murder was a conspiracy, and I think his family was awarded $20 dollars, or something like that. My two quick questions are do you believe that there are other external, political factors in the Michael Jackson trial, as far as his ownership of the Beatles catalogue, some of his Elvis Presley songs? And my second question is deals with a trial going on right now in the so-called Middle East with Saddam Hussein. Do you think it will be a proper, legal maneuver to have Mr. Hussein given amnesty for his crimes, that’s he’s charged with the same way the racist white supremacists in South Africa were given amnesty through the Truth in reconciliation Commission, where they went and admitted of their crimes and were let off scott-free?
Tom Mesereau: Well, I can talk about the first issue, but the second one, I’m not an international lawyer and I don’t know much of the details, except I have trouble believing that anyone’s going to give Saddam Hussein amnesty, but nevertheless, first question: Michael Jackson has been the greatest target for civil lawsuits that I’ve ever experienced. He’s literally been sued thousands of times by people he hasn’t met, people who he knows nothing about, and yes there are people who would like obtain his property, including his interest in the Beatles catalogue. Their desire to obtain his assets would have been significantly enhanced had he been convicted. He would be disabled from defending cases. If he defended them, he would walk into court a convicted felon, or child molester, or conspirator, or whatever the conviction might have been. I happen to fervently believe that there were people waiting in the winds, hoping he would be convicted so they would simply walk in and grab assets. Can I tell you definitively people who want the catalogue are in that group? No I can’t. But what I can tell you is that he would have been substantially disabled from defending himself in any of these situations if he had been convicted and was in prison.
Charles Ogletree: Any comments on that, Dan?
Dan Abrams: I’m assuming that your question is rhetorical, right? You’re asking more about South Africa than you are about Iraq? Seriously? There’s no chance that Saddam’s getting amnesty. Why not? Because there’s no reason to give Saddam amnesty, first of all. And if you’re going to ask it as a comparative question, then it’s a political question. It’s not a legal question.
Audience Member #4: It’s a question of race. You have Europeans in South Africa, who for centuries committed atrocities against people……………
Dan Abrams: I’m not going to argue one bit with you on any of those statements that your making because those are political statements.
Charles Ogletree: Next question.
Audience Member #5: I noticed that there is an interesting choice of language among the three of you in that you have a defense attorney using the term “accuser”, and you have a prosecutor using the term “victim”. When in court or the media do you think it’s appropriate to use the either term or neither term?
Charles Ogletree: Are you a 1L?
Audience Member #5: I’m actually a freshman undergraduate.
Martha Coakley: Most of the time in court we will get a routine motion from the defense counsel, and we cannot use “victim”. We can say “alleged victim.” And certainly the newspapers do that, and we do that because people are innocent until proven guilty, although sometimes someone is a victim, it may just be a question of “Who did it?” Even so, in court we don’t use the term “victim” without an adjective in front of it.
Dan Abrams: And you knows it’s interesting is reflecting on the media’s perception of Michael Jackson cases, I’ve heard more people refer to this boy as “the accuser” than I have in any other case. In almost any other case, it seems like the media is bending over backwards to call the person “the alleged victim”, which suggests a level of truth in the allegation, even though you call him “alleged”. In this case, and I think this further supports the point I was making before, that Michael Jackson got as fair shake in the media as I’ve seen any high profile defendant get in that the boy was constantly referred to as “the accuser” in this case, more than I’ve seen in any other case.
Audience Member #6: First of all, thank you for coming tonight, it’s been really enlightening to hear your comments. Producing for cable TV, I actually found your comments quite interesting on how people attack the media, even though I’m glad the media fosters the truth and giving the truth to the public. My question is posed to the two lawyers in the room, and my question is: Having had all of the experience and knowledge that you have, practicing for a long period that you have, what is one thing you wished you had learned while you were in law school that you wish you had learned now?
Tom Mesereau: I wish I had emphasized trial practice more. I think it’s not right that people graduate from a medical school, and they can’t operate in a life-or-death situation without real, hands-on training, yet people get out of law school and people’s lives are in their hands, and they don’ know the first thing about trying a case. I think that’s wrong. I think there are too many guinea pigs out there who are lawyers, who just don’t know what they’re doing in a trial courts because someone can go to prison for the rest of their life. Someone can be executed. Someone could lose all of their assets, which can destroy a family, because a lawyer is not skilled, and not experienced, and we just don’t require that as a ticket for trying cases. So I think the legal profession needs to realize that trying cases is no different than a doctor operating.
Martha Coakley: And the corollary to that is on the public side is that people have to pay for it because we don’t want to pay our prosecutors, we don’t want to prepare our defense counsel, and then we wonder why we have mistakes and wrongful convictions, and the medical analogy is apt because if we underfunded our medical health system the way we do our criminal justice system, you would have a lot of autopsies of people who’ve died because people weren’t skilled. However, the one thing that is true, and Tom will agree with me on this, is that there’s just no substitute for experience. You can be in law school for six years, but if you’re not putting juries in the box, doing that witness, getting feedback from people, and that’s why watching yourself do stuff is helpful, but getting feedback, you just can’t do it unless you do it.
Charles Ogletree: I’m going to take all three of the last questions at once, and then give one answer. So why don’t you all come up to the microphone.
Audience Member #7: Thanks for coming Mr. Mesereau, but I’m going to articulate what you first started speaking about racism being applied to individuals along the board, and I’m going to take you back in this state, in 1738, a case named Massachusetts Bay Colony vs. Henry Negro James Bodies and strangers in plain view. Do you remember that case when you were a student here? Because I’ve never been to law school a day in my life, and I know the case almost in its entirety, and every time I ask for a copy in this state, no one’s heard of the case. No one’s heard of that case. But I found that case in a law library at in 1979, and I left it with some individuals there, and I haven’t been able to find it, because I can sheppardize any case I see in front of me, and I don’t have any legal practice. And I just cannot find that case. And my second question is: I can’t understand why that when, in Massachusetts, and I’ve had this conversation with Mr. Stephen Sack, who is a very renowned attorney here, and we speak briefly a lot on different cases, a lot of cases in this state where attorney are very quick to plea bargain especially when they have all the information that can lead them to more than just a gist of why an individual is being tried, and they don’t want to try the cases. You almost spoke about it a little while ago. But the attorneys in this state, I don’t even want an attorney if it’s not Stephen Sack, or Mr. Maxwell Stern, because those are the two individuals that I have any faith in, and it’s really sad that the jurisprudence in this state, it doesn’t even exist for an individual to get a fair trial, because I don’t believe there’s no such things justice, because the constitution relegates that when it speaks about it, because I’m from St. Louis, Missouri, and I do know about the case of United States vs. Monroe, and I can’t remember the citation right now, but it’ll come back to me in a little while. The individual was a slave individual, and his ownership was transferred…
Charles Ogletree: Dred Scott?
Audience Member #7: Yes, Dred Scott. I can remember cases like that which transcend anything that Michael Jackson would ever want to be a witness to.
Charles Ogletree: Ok, now Mr. Jones, Mr. Cooke, last questions. I’ve got three people who are going to research that and get the answer. They’ll find it.
Audience Member #8: I’d like to kinda attach to what my brother was saying. I’m one of the students who was under the tutelage of Professor Ogletree in the criminal justice institute, and one of the issues that comes up for me listening here, and everyday is how do you arrive at your version of the truth? Did there come a time when you sat across the table from Michael Jackson and say “Mike? Did you do it?” Or did you look at the evidence in whole and come to a conclusion there, which is fine, I’m not making a normative judgment either way, but it’s a question also for the other side of the table, the prosecution. Because as I watch in Roxbury, everything is so rushed, everything is so blurred, everything is just chugging right along. How do you as a prosecutor arrive at the truth? Do you ask the victim broader questions, besides what specifically happened at this moment? Or do you really try to get the bigger picture, and try to do justice with the broader sense of truth?
Audience member #9: Good evening Mr. Mesereau, and Dan, and Mrs. Coakley. I wanted to ask a question of Mr. Mesereau, and I also wanted to ask a question of Mr. Abrams. In the case of Michael Jackson, we realized that cameras were not allowed in the courtroom. In general, I’d like to know what your disposition towards having trials, especially high profile trials of this nature, what’s your position or perspective is on cameras in the courtroom. The comments that you’ve made in the Michael Jackson case, in respect to race, are interesting, and I think that you have provide an apt and sophisticated perspective on how you handled the racial issues from that vantage point. But one of the concerns that I think a lot of black people have had, and certainly that I’ve had in looking at the Michael Jackson phenomenon, is that Michael Jackson is an eccentric type of person, or he has characteristics or behavioral aspects of his personality that are apparently considered eccentric. And it seems to me that the media has highlighted those supposed eccentricities, and made him look like a buffoon and a fool. And to me, there is a racial element there because I think Michael Jackson is one of the very few high profile black people who we’ve grown up with, who is more or less an artistic eccentric. But on the other hand, there are many wealthy, artistic, white people that are well known who are also eccentric, so I’d like for you to comment a little bit about that aspect of it. I think the media has exploited this, and I think there is a racial element in a sense that his eccentricities are no more bizarre than that of other white artistic personalities. Mr. Abrams, in your defense of the criticisms of Mr. Mesereau of the performance of the media in the Michael Jackson case, you have suggested that it was more balanced there, than it was. And you pointed out how Geraldo Rivera, as an example, showed some balance, but I would really ask you if you could cite three or four other personalities that were out there in this case that appeared to defend the defense side of the case?
Dan Abrams: And that’s balanced, right? Balanced from your perspective is defending the defense’s case?
Audience Member #9: Balanced in terms of the……….
Dan Abahms: Is advocating Michael Jacksons’ position?
Audience Member #9: Yes. And secondly, in your personal opinion, were you unaware of information that would have had a more exculpatory impact in Michael’s benefit, and some of the points that Mr. Mesereau mentioned about that. I’d like your comments on those things.
Charles Ogletree: Final question.
Audience Member #10: Actually I just want to say that I’m not a law student; I’m just representing the Michael Jackson fan community online and I was going to add to what he said about the “race card” being played. I think we were really blessed to have the jury on our side. And I think that even if you wanted to, you couldn’t have played, I mean component of race, I don’t know how effective it would have been for you to actually go out and say that because, like he was saying, the media has propagated this image Michael Jackson is not an African-American and he’s disowned his race, and they changed his whole Vitiligo into “skin-bleaching” thing. Even if you had gone out and said that there was a component of race, I don’t think it would have been effective, because most people just look at him and they say “Oh, he’s a white guy, he doesn’t own his race.” So that’s something I want you to react to.
Charles Ogletree: We’ll have to stop there. The first question is about plea bargaining, whether or not it’s good for the system, and the other is the search for the truth from the prosecutor and defense point of view, cameras in the courtroom, and then the issue of race in the Michael Jackson case. Martha, which one of those would you like to take?
Martha Coakley: I’ll take like my practice has been that I need to believe the victim myself, and I need to feel, at least reasonably certain, that we prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt. We’ve had tons of victims, particularly kids, sometimes young women, sometimes young men, who have been sexually assaulted, and I believe them, but a jury isn’t, because there’s not enough evidence, or they were intoxicated, or there’s contradictory evidence out there, and it’s just not going to work. I’m realistic about before I put people through a trial about what the odds are, and I’m not going to put a six-year-old or a seven-year-old through a trial if I don’t think there’s a reasonable chance that there will be success there. It’s just not fair. There are cases where we just have a victim’s testimony, and we go with that. But if you don’t believe the victim, if you as a prosecutor do not believe the victim, nobody else will, and you need to know that. And it’s important for me. The defense has a different job. The defense is to make sure we do our job. Our job is to bring charges that we believe in and prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and that’s different than what a defense lawyer does, I believe. So I think we have a different and a higher obligation not to bring cases that we don’t believe the victims are telling the truth and we can prove it. Now I will say that we don’t always know that. Sometimes you say “I believe the victim, but I don’t know”, but then I’m not the truth finder, and that’s why we have an adversarial system. But my experience has been if I have doubts about the victim, then the jury or judge will to.
Charles Ogletree: Dan, you can pick one. Cameras in the courtroom, or race and Michael Jackson?
Dan Abrams: Cameras in the courtroom, the concern about bias in the media, to me the answer is put a camera in there, and if you want to watch it the whole trial, you can watch it, and you don’t have to rely on me if you don’t trust me or whoever else. I think that’s the strongest argument for a camera in the courtroom. I think that’s a good question that you asked about Michael Jackson and his appearance, and I do think that there’s too much focus on his appearance in the media, but I don’t think that the reason is because of race. I would argue that he has changed before the eyes of the public, and as a result I think he’s getting a harder time than another person might, because people are seeing how much different he looks, and again, whether it’s based on disease, or makeup, or whatever the case may be, I think that’s why he’s getting “teased”, so to speak, and I think there’s no other way to say it, honestly, than someone else might. And in response to your question about do I think that people were being fair to Michael Jackson, again as someone who came into this very dubious of this family, and I remain dubious of this family. I think that’s exactly the kind of person that you want. I’m skeptical, as I am in general. I was skeptical of this story that this family was telling. I think what Tom said about the conspiracy charge was right on. It didn’t make sense. I’d say it again, and again, and again: “It doesn’t make sense!” I think that’s fair. If you think Michael Jackson is absolutely 100% innocent, and you accept everything that Tom Mesereau said, that these were simply invented charges by a vindictive prosecutor, and that’s your position, then you’re not going to think that I was being objective. But I think that if you view if from a more balanced perspective, which is that these prosecutors came into it thinking that – and the Grand Jury found that there was enough evidence to bring Michael Jackson to trial – but in the end, that’s what a trial’s for, and the system worked in this case, and I think that’s a pretty balanced perspective on the case.
Tom Mesereau: Let me start with the issue of race. I recently addressed the annual convention of the National Bar Association in Los Angeles, and if any of you don’t know what the National Bar Association is, that’s an organization of lawyers that was formed in the 1920’s when black lawyers couldn’t get into the American Bar Association. They had a strict prohibition; blacks were not allowed to join, and black lawyers formed the National Bar Association in response to that prohibition. And I gave my views on race in the Michael Jackson case. A law professor from Florida asked me a few questions. He had just published a book about race and the law, which I want to read as soon as I can. And he sort of was skeptical about did I really understand the deeper implications of race in this case, and I answered him this way; I said “Look, I am convinced that the prosecutors were very, very attracted to the idea of convicting the world’s greatest celebrity.” I’m convinced they were far more attracted to that than destroying a black person. These are three white prosecutors, OK? However, racism can exist on a unconscious or subconscious level as well as a conscious level. And I said the following: I said “You know, you’ve got me thinking about his I’m still convinced I’m correct, but it was the celebrity part that was most attracted to them. It was the celebrity part that was going to get them significant advantages as the prosecutors who took down Michael Jackson, the world’s greatest known entertainer.” However, did the fact that Michael Jackson is black, and he is from a prominent black family, that he has black security people around him, factor into their feelings or belief, be it conscious or unconscious, that this would somehow help them disconnect them from this jury and this community, and make him less valuable and easier to convict? Maybe. Maybe. I just don’t think it was the primary motive. I just don’t. But, you know, the fact that he was going to clearly arrive at court surrounded by black people, he was going to have black people in the court room, his family primarily, supporting him, and the fact that you were not likely to get any blacks on the jury – in fact, two black women were possible jurors, and they removed the two of them, and I did raise a constitutional objection, which was denied. Did that play a part in their effort to figure out convictable he was? How they could degrade and devalue him in a courtroom, in some level? I think it could have, because this was a very mean spirited prosecution that had to attack everything about him: his sexuality, his finances, his music, his attire, they were willing to do anything. And I gotta tell you, I heard Dan, who‘s show I appeared on after the verdicts, and I didn’t appear on many of them, but I did appear on his because he’s always been very professional and honorable with me, but I heard him mention this idea of pornography. Well, he’s correct. They found approximately ninety girly magazines in Michael Jackson’s home. Playboy, Hustler, Penthouse, his fingerprints were on them, he had bought them. They never found any kiddie porn on computers or anywhere else, and I used that fact in my closing argument to explain why this guy is not a pedophile. So, a lot of things that the media picked up, and gave you a surface impression about, were not at all what they were made to seem.
Charles Ogletree: I want to thank all of our presenters, Martha Coakley, Dan Abrams, and Tom Mesereau, thank you for coming, have a great evening.
1. “And I looked at one person and I said “With all due respect, my job is not to vindicate the First Amendment, my job is to save my client’s life in this case.” And I really believe that was my primary obligation here.” This is what makes Mesereau such a great lawyer. As Randy Jackson insisted when he first recommended Mesereau to Michael, he isn’t a “camera happy” lawyer who is looking to make a name for himself. He simply wants to serve his client and make sure that their Constitutional Rights are upheld in a court of law, and that they don’t get taken advantage of by overzealous prosecutors trying to profit from a conviction. If Mesereau wanted to get publicity in order to solicit other high profile clients, or to secure a television analyst job, then he would have tried to “vindicate” the First Amendment in this trial by fighting Judge Melville’s gag order!
2. “Gloria Allred, for example, was on the news every night, there for the victims. A great story for the media, but the question is whether or not an important aspect of the government’s case.” Gloria Allred represents everything that is wrong with the justice system today! She is certainly a “camera happy” lawyer who has never met a microphone that she didn’t like, and would fight tooth and nail to “vindicate” the First Amendment in a high profile case! She has also shown that she had no respect whatsoever for MJ, and has tried on numerous occasions to get his kids taken away from him! It got so bad that MJ said she should go to hell!
I believe that her antipathy towards MJ lies in the fact that she was gullible enough to believe Jordie Chandler in 1993 when she briefly represented him, but because she wanted justice instead of money she was fired by Evan Chandler! As a result, she lost out on millions of dollars that instead went to Larry Feldman, so she tried to get even with a “phantom victim” named Daniel Kapon. I totally destroyed her in this post, so please read it for more details.
Here is a story from September 1993 covering the beginning stages of the allegations, and @ 5:20 you see Gloria Allred (BEFORE she cut her hair! LOL!) stating that Jordie is “ready, willing, and able” to testify, and is “looking forward” to his day in court! Yeah, right!
3. “A criminal trial is between a state and a defendant. And I think that, rightly so, inside the courtroom we limit the amount of say a victim can have. I have no problem with having that victim’s advocate have their say in terms of the court of public perception.” And that’s exactly the problem! These so-called “victim’s advocates” are giving the public the wrong perceptions of high profile cases! I already dismantled Gloria Allred, but there are a few others as well, such as attorney Wendy Murphy, another serial MJ basher. She is thoroughly excoriated in this aptly titled article “Why Cable News Never Punishes Liars”, which attempts to explain why pundits like her are routinely invited to debate topics on cable news shows (which have devolved into primetime “info-tainment”) despite their lack of credibility on the topic that they are debating! I will further expose her for the liar that she is in a future post!
4. “And they also, in my opinion, were trying to use the conspiracy charge to allow hearsay evidence that normally would not be admitted. The exception to the prohibition on hearsay, and that’s called co-conspirator hearsay, and what this allowed the mother to do is come in and say “All these people said A,B,C,D, and E”, and whereas she normally would not be allowed to say that because it would be hearsay, because there’s an exception if there’s a conspiracy charge. They also did it to scare these alleged conspirators away so they wouldn’t come in with the defense, and come in and exonerate Michael Jackson.” Mesereau perfectly explains why MJ’s five unindicted co-conspirators (Frank Cascio, Vince Amen, Marc Schaffel, Dieter Wiesner, and Ronald Konitzer) did not testify in on his behalf during the trial. They could not afford to be charged with conspiracy, especially since they did not know what the outcome of the trial would have been. They could have been convicted merely on prejudice, regardless of the facts of the case. (And that applies to ALL criminal cases! It’s called “jury nullification”.) Sneddon and his goons knew the jury could only convict if they were prejudiced into doing so, which is why they wanted as much hearsay evidence allowed as possible (in addition to the “Prior Bad Acts” witnesses). Hearsay evidence is defined as “evidence of a statement that was made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing in question and that is offered to prove the truth of the matter stated”. If not for this co-conspirator exception, Frank Cascio and Vincent Amen could have testified that Gavin and Star were never alone with MJ when they claimed to be, and that they accompanied the Arvizos on their numerous shopping sprees which occurred when they claimed they were being held “captive” at Neverland.
5. “My two quick questions are do you believe that there are other external, political factors in the Michael Jackson trial, as far as his ownership of the Beatles catalogue, some of his Elvis Presley songs?” For many years, there has been a lot of fan speculation that the 2005 trial was part of an elaborate 3-way conspiracy involving Sneddon, the media, and Sony to destroy MJ by putting him behind bars, profiting exponentially from a cottage industry of MJ prison coverage, and to getting control of his Catalogue, respectively. The ironic thing is that those 3 entities did NOT have to sit down and agree to this conspiracy because an MJ all 3 had an equal incentive to see MJ go down with only indirect help from the other 2 entities! Mesereau opines on this theory in further detail to Aphrodite Jones in “Michael Jackson Conspiracy”, pages 12-13:
As for Michael, the superstar has long been public in his claims that conspirators have been trying to ruin him as part of an attempt to regain control of his large stake in the SONY/ATV music catalogue, which includes songs by Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Jackson made reference to a conspiracy which appeared in a nasty Vanity Fair article that hit newsstands just days before the verdicts in Santa Maria. The Vanity Fair piece mocked Michael Jackson’s alleged belief that the accuser and his family were being paid by “enemies” who wanted to take over the SONY/ATV music catalogue. The vicious article poked fun at Jackson, who believed that former Sony Records president, Tommy Mottola, and the “powers-that-be” at Sony Records – along with DA Tom Sneddon – were the “main conspirators” against him.
About all this, Michael Jackson’s defense attorney, Tom Mesereau, has remained somewhat neutral. Though Mesereau had no actual evidence to prove Jackson’s theory that he’d been the victim of a corporate conspiracy, the defense attorney agreed that it was perfectly possible that a “subconscious conspiracy” between Sony and the Santa Barbara DA might have existed.
“What Michael said about a conspiracy makes logical sense, but I have no evidence of it,” Mesereau confided. “If Michael were in jail or in prison how would h defend his ownership in the catalogue? How would he defend all of these frivolous lawsuits? Sony had so much to gain if there was a conviction, and Sneddon would have gained celebrity status. These people didn’t have to actually sit down to conspire together. They might have helped each other on an unplanned level – because they had a common interest.”
6. “In this case, and I think this further supports the point I was making before, that Michael Jackson got as fair shake in the media as I’ve seen any high profile defendant get in that the boy was constantly referred to as “the accuser” in this case, more than I’ve seen in any other case.” Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? I won’t even comment on this because it’s just so absurd. Maybe Dan Abrams should seriously pursue a career in stand-up comedy! Ironically, Abrams’ assertion of the media treating MJ fairly was subsequently rebuffed by a later question!
7. “And it seems to me that the media has highlighted those supposed eccentricities, and made him look like a buffoon and a fool. And to me, there is a racial element there because I think Michael Jackson is one of the very few high profile black people who we’ve grown up with, who is more or less an artistic eccentric. But on the other hand, there are many wealthy, artistic, white people that are well known who are also eccentric, so I’d like for you to comment a little bit about that aspect of it. I think the media has exploited this, and I think there is a racial element in a sense that his eccentricities are no more bizarre than that of other white artistic personalities.” Bravo, sir! This is an excellent observation! The media, which is almost exclusively white owned, has been accused of having a racial bias against MJ ever since “Thriller” became the #1 album of all time, and he outbid Paul McCartney for ATV Catalogue. The perception is that he was too young, too black, and too successful, so he needed to be brought down to earth, and ever since the media has been waiting to devour MJ like a school of blood-thirsty piranhas! There are many white artists who are even MORE eccentric than MJ, but aren’t subjected to half of the ridicule that MJ was subjected to. A perfect example would be the rock band KISS, and their MJ-hating lead singer Gene Simmons, who Charles Thomson thoroughly chastised in this article after Simmons claimed that MJ was guilty of child abuse.
When you look at that photo, just ask yourself “How could they get more respect than MJ?”
8. “if you could cite three or four other personalities that were out there in this case that appeared to defend the defense side of the case?” & “were you unaware of information that would have had a more exculpatory impact in Michael’s benefit, and some of the points that Mr. Mesereau mentioned about that. I’d like your comments on those things.” Abrams didn’t get to specifically answer these two questions, but they were indicative of the media’s bias against MJ. Geraldo was by far the most high profile pundit to take a pro-defense slant in the case, and you would be hard-pressed to find three or four other media personalities who were equally pro-defense. And of course Abrams and the entire media were totally aware of the mountains of exculpatory evidence, but chose not to report it in order to further build the suspense to an MJ conviction.
9. “I’m just representing the Michael Jackson fan community online and I was going to add to what he said about the “race card” being played.” & Even if you had gone out and said that there was a component of race, I don’t think it would have been effective, because most people just look at him and they say “Oh, he’s a white guy, he doesn’t own his race.” Yes! We had a representative of the MJ fan community representing us at the seminar! This is one of the best observations of the night! Mesereau didn’t have to mention race because it’s effect on the case was microscopic, and as this fan adequately noted, the media would have further ridiculed both MJ and Mesereau if race had been brought up as a motive for MJ’s malicious prosecution.
10. “You don’t have to rely on me if you don’t trust me or whoever else.” You’re damn right we don’t have to rely on you, Abrams! That’s why we have fan sites, blogs, YouTube, books, documentaries, and other media that we can rely on for MJ information! If you think that the fan community is going to sit back and let you guys spoon feed us, then you’re out of your damn mind!
11. “I would argue that he has changed before the eyes of the public, and as a result I think he’s getting a harder time than another person might, because people are seeing how much different he looks, and again, whether it’s based on disease, or makeup, or whatever the case may be, I think that’s why he’s getting “teased”, so to speak, and I think there’s no other way to say it, honestly, than someone else might.” This is a complete contradiction of what Abrams said earlier! He is saying how MJ is getting a “harder time” than another person would, due to his looks, but earlier he said the media was more fair to MJ than any other celebrity, merely because they referred to Gavin as “the accuser” instead of “victim”! How is it fair when the media only reports on “the accuser’s” direct examination but totally ignores his cross examination!
12. I’m skeptical, as I am in general. I was skeptical of this story that this family was telling. I think what Tom said about the conspiracy charge was right on. It didn’t make sense. I’d say it again, and again, and again: “It doesn’t make sense!” Well, even though Abrams is a hack for the media, at least he was honest from the beginning, and he was one of the more balanced journalists to cover the trial. Overall, I’m just disappointed that he didn’t attack the prosecution’s case more aggressively in other areas, in addition to the conspiracy charge. And he also missed a golden opportunity to scrutinize DA Ron Zonen in this softball interview that he conducted shortly after the acquittals. As you can see, he was just way too easy on him!
13. “However, did the fact that Michael Jackson is black, and he is from a prominent black family, that he has black security people around him, factor into their feelings or belief, be it conscious or unconscious, that this would somehow help them disconnect them from this jury and this community, and make him less valuable and easier to convict? Maybe. Maybe. I just don’t think it was the primary motive. I just don’t.” I think that this statement perfectly sums up the role that race played in the case. It was a motive, but not the primary motive! I don’t think anyone will argue with this assertion.
Do you guys agree or disagree with Mesreau’s opinion on race in the MJ trial? Do you think that MJ ever suffered from racism by the media, or any of his critics? Do you think that racism only played a part in the 80’s when he was “too big and too powerful”, while in the 90’s it was all about his “weirdness”? Please share your thoughts on race in the comments below!