Originally created 04/28/04

Act Two of Jackson case features new cast of lawyers



LOS ANGELES -- Act Two of the Michael Jackson child molestation case gets under way this week with a new cast of lawyers taking center stage.

"My life is at stake," the pop star said as he announced firing his two high profile lawyers, Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman.

At the counsel table when court reconvenes Friday will be Thomas Mesereau Jr., a well known advocate whose work on behalf of the downtrodden and minorities was a selling point for the superstar who has been involved in fund raising for numerous causes.

Mesereau also is a veteran of a star trial, having represented actor Robert Blake in a murder case for the past year before they had a falling out.

Sitting beside Mesereau will be Steve Cochran, Jackson's longtime lawyer, and Robert Sanger of Santa Barbara, who has represented Jackson in lawsuits in the county where his Neverland ranch is located.

From his statement, it appeared that Jackson broke with Geragos because of the famed attorney's representation of Scott Peterson on charges that Peterson murdered his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.

Jackson felt that Geragos' involvement in that trial, which is in jury selection, was taking up too much of his time.

"It is imperative that I have the full attention of those who are representing me. My life is at stake," Jackson said. "Therefore, I must feel confident that my interests are of the highest priority. I am innocent of these false charges, and will aggressively seek to clear my name.

"I feel very confident that when I am able to defend myself, I will be exonerated by a jury of my peers," Jackson said.

Jackson, 45, is free on $3 million bail. He was originally charged with seven counts of lewd or lascivious conduct involving a child under 14 and with administering an intoxicant, reportedly wine, to a child under 14.

Brafman, one of New York's top criminal defense attorneys, declined to comment on Jackson's statement, as did Geragos.

"I have not replaced my defense team," Jackson said. "I have replaced the lead attorneys. And, contrary to reports, this is a decision that I have personally made."

The statement which said flatly that Geragos and Brafman were "terminated" came a day after the lawyers said they voluntarily "stepped down" from the case for reasons they would not discuss publicly.

In a hearing Monday afternoon by conference call, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville approved the substitution of lead counsel.

The change comes less than a week before Jackson is due in Santa Maria Superior Court for arraignment on a grand jury indictment.

Behind the scenes, sources said that yet another attorney had been directing the negotiations that led to the dismissal of Geragos and Brafman.

Brian Oxman, a Jackson family attorney who has been close to Jackson's brother, Randy, was described as having been "at the highest level in the negotiations."

Oxman had worked with Mesereau and knew of Jackson's desire to have him as his attorney. An earlier approach to Mesereau was rejected because he was still representing Blake.

With the return of a grand jury indictment last week, Jackson began to re-evaluate his team.

"This is a new case now, a new proceeding," said Oxman. "This is totally Michael's decision. He's concerned with everything. He's very passionate about this. He is a smart man, a good man. He is innocent and he's going to show he's innocent."

Defense attorney Harland Braun, who was replaced by Mesereau in the Blake case, said it is not unusual for Hollywood stars to change lawyers in mid-case.

"Think of it as politics," said Braun. "A candidate often changes managers in the middle of a campaign."