New Mesereau Interview May 2007 – Transcript + link to Audio

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Thomas Mesereau gave an interview last week about “Celebrity Criminal Cases”. [i](shout out to TSCM)[/i] Check out the transcript and link to the 30 minute audio file below: Last week Thomas Mesereau and another attorney, Jennifer Keller conducted an audio interview with J. Craig Williams and Robert Ambrogi of the legal talk show Lawyer 2 Lawyer. The subject was “Celebrity Criminal Cases” and I have transcribed all of Mesereau’s portions and related segments.[] — [b]Legal 2 Legal[/b] [i]Celebrity Criminal Trials – Thomas Mesereau and Jennifer Keller[/i] [i]May 23, 2007[/i] [b]Williams:[/b] …Today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we’re going to be discussing celebrity criminal cases, these and other similar cases, why is the public so fascinated with seeing our stars in trouble? Is there special treatment when it comes to celebrities faced with legal problems? Or is it just the opposite? Does media coverage help or hurt a case, and how does it affect the image of the celebrity client? [b]Ambrogi:[/b] We’ll look at some of the current cases in the news, and take a look back at some of the more high-profile cases involving celebrities. [b]Williams:[/b] I’d like to welcome our first guest, attorney Tom Mesereau. Tom is one of the most celebrated trial lawyers in America. He specializes in criminal defense, in both state and federal court, and some civil trials. Attorney Mesereau defends corporations and individuals accused of white-collar crimes, individuals charged with violent crimes and professionals, including doctors and lawyers faced with various allegations in civil, administrative and criminal courts. Tom is a partner in the law firm of Mesereau & Yu, in Los Angeles. He famously acquitted music legend Michael Jackson of all counts in the highly publicized trial in Santa Maria, California. Welcome to the show, Tom. [b][b]Mesereau:[/b][/b] Thank you for inviting me. I appreciate it. [b]Ambrogi:[/b] Also joining us today is attorney Jennifer Keller… [b]Williams:[/b] Well here’s a question for both of you. Do you have any kind of sense as to why the public is so fascinated with celebrities in legal proceedings? … [b]Mesereau:[/b] I think this whole fascination with celebrities, which engulfs not just Los Angeles but the entire country, has generated you know, so many stations competing with one another for some type of copy and some type of sensational story that it’s really gotten a little bit out of hand. You mention Paris Hilton, I think that one of the unfortunate realities of this whole Paris Hilton story is that you see a lot of mean-spiritedness. Particularly on television, I mean you see people almost salivating that this wealthy heiress is going to jail. It says a lot about human nature. I think on one hand you have a great fascination with celebrities. People sort of envision them and dream about them as living very exciting and colorful and daring lives, and on the other hand we have a certain mean-spiritedness in our society that likes to see people who have risen high, just collapse and fall. It’s a phenomenon that’s here to stay but it just raises some complex and troubling issues about the world we live in. [b]Ambrogi:[/b] You both represented plenty of non-celebrities as well as your share of celebrities. Let me start with you Tom and ask, how does representing a celebrity change the game for you as the lawyer in the case? [b]Mesereau:[/b] Well, it changes the game in the sense that there are so many potential distractions. First of all, celebrities are attacked with resources that ordinary people do not face. In the Robert Blake case, the LAPD was bragging that this was the most heavily investigated case in Los Angeles history — that they put more resources into the case than they did in the OJ Simpson case. You had police traveling all over the United States generating hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, in ways that your ordinary person would not face. And Michael Jackson of course, you had unbelievable resources thrown at him. You had nine fingerprint experts which you know, I’ve never seen in a capital case. You had seventy sheriffs raiding his home, in one of many raids. You had — just things done to try and get him convicted that other people don’t face. So there’s a misnomer out there that celebrities, because of their wealth and resources, can get a better defense. That is true, but they face enormous resources that other people don’t face. … [b]Ambrogi:[/b] That of course raises the number one argument against cameras in the courtroom. There are still some courts at least in this country that don’t allow cameras in them. What is your take on how having cameras in the courtroom affects the flow and the outcome of the trial? [b]Mesereau:[/b] I have mixed feelings about it. If I were a member of the public, I probably would like it because it does give you a view into the justice system that you ordinarily would not have. Because even though we have public trials, most courtrooms are pretty small. However, as a defense attorney I have to say I have mixed feelings about it. At the Robert Blake preliminary hearing I did ask for cameras, and I thought they helped our case very well because we were able to show a lot of problems with their case, expose a lot of their weaknesses as having problems. And, it turned public opinion towards Blake in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened but for the cameras. In Jackson, I was against cameras. I wanted to tone everything down. My biggest fear of cameras is that witnesses will be affected by what they see on television. They normally have witness exclusion orders where a witness is not allowed to watch the trial and be affected by the testimony of another witness. But that pretty much goes out the door if you televise trials because even if you ask potential witnesses not to watch television, they very well may do that. It also can affect the behavior of judges and lawyers. I have a feeling that in this day in age, people are getting a little more used to the fact that celebrity trials do generate public interest and may be televised. But never-the-less, unfortunately human beings whether they are lawyers or not, sometimes tries to behave differently with cameras and that’s a problem. … [b]Williams:[/b] How do you, as a lawyer, handle the quarterbacking from the sidelines that goes on when you have a high-profile case that’s in the media glare? I mean, look at the Spector case, it’s being shown on Court TV now, any number of commentators are watching and judging the actions of the lawyers and the judges and everybody else. Does that affect you as a lawyer in a high-profile case? [b]Keller:[/b] Tom has never faced that, have you Tom? (Laughter) [b]Mesereau:[/b] You know, Jennifer and I have talked about this problem for years and bottom line, and I think Jennifer will agree with what I’m saying, is that you have to totally ignore it. These cases are won in the court; they’re not won outside the court. That doesn’t mean that you ignore public relations or media, obviously you’d like to get good information about your client if you can. You’d like to have balanced legal analysts if you can. Or even analysts who might be saying positive things about your side. But, if you get too carried away with that stuff, you’re going to lose focus and you’re going to lose time that you need to spend on 13 people. That’s twelve jurors and a judge, they’re the ones that you’re going to win the case with. In the Jackson case, you know I’d watch some of this during a break, and usually be just appalled at the absolutely ignorant, amateurish kind of commentary that was going on. Usually, from people who weren’t even in the courtroom. And it’s just something that you really have to ignore and not care about. [b]Ambrogi:[/b] Yet, does your client ever bring it back to you? Does your client, watching this same stuff ever say, “Well that commentator says you should’ve…”? What do you do then? [b]Mesereau:[/b] Yes, that does happen and as Jennifer mentioned before, there’s so many hangers-ons, and managers, and agents, and advisers and consultants hanging around the client, and they can cause a problem. You raise an interesting point. Entertainment celebrities have been reared in the Entertainment industry. And they often think that what’s happening in the media is what’s happening in the courtroom. They don’t know that they’re two very, very different places. So yes, they will be affected by people, saying, “Why isn’t your lawyer responding to this particular analyst?” They think that’s the trial, which is one of the great things about a gag order. If you have a gag order in the case, you can always tell the client or the people around the client, “I can’t respond, we have to focus on the courtroom and win the case in the court.” … [b]Ambrogi:[/b] But do you discount the idea that the media, the lawyer can use the media to his advantage at times? [b]Keller:[/b] No, of course they can. But, I think the ability of the media to influence trial jurors is vastly overrated. [b]Mesereau:[/b] I absolutely agree with Jennifer. If you look at the media predictions of high-profile cases, they’re usually wrong. Look at OJ Simpson, Robert Blake, look at Michael Jackson. In the Scott Peterson case, the majority of the media were predicting a hung jury or acquittal. So you can work the media and do a great job of getting people on your side, and have them saying nice things about you, and then lose it where it counts, that’s the courtroom. Transversely, you can have the media against you and looking for a conviction to generate more sensationalism and more stories about sentencing and prison and things of that sort. And they can be completely off-base. [b]Keller:[/b] In the Jackson case, Robert Shapiro was on TV while the verdict was pending, saying he was “100 percent” certain there was going to be a guilty verdict. And even some very good lawyer commentators were suede by that kind of commentary, and it became a feeding frenzy and soon they were showing pictures of the jail cell that Jackson would be held before he went to prison. So, as Tom said, in Scott Peterson they were all saying that Mark Geragos had done a fabulous job, outclassed the prosecution and there was going to be an acquittal. So, the influence of the media is probably more in the court of public opinion than it is in the courtroom. [b]Williams:[/b] How do you go about managing your client’s appearance in court, your client’s timelyness of showing up for appearances? Paris Hilton arrived late for one of her appearances. It’s happened in other celebrity cases. Phil Spector himself has, you know, sometimes good hair days and sometimes bad hair days. How do you manage that and how does it affect the outcome of the trial? [b]Mesereau:[/b] Well, obviously you want your client to understand that he or she has to show total respect in the court, total respect for the process and total respect for the jury. And sometimes it is easier said than done. I know that before I got on the Jackson case, he was late for his first court appearance and was severely dressed down by the judge. When I got on the case, I was very, very diligent in trying to make sure that that entire atmosphere changed. During the second arraignment that I was involved in, he was on time, he was actually early, and it was a very different environment. Now, during the trial as everyone knows, there was this incident I think unfortunately titled “Pajama Day” which I think was built way out of proportion. He was at the hospital, I informed the judge immediately of where he was, and the doctor’s name and the doctor’s number. The judge got very firm, because he wanted to make sure he wasn’t losing control of this case — which had all the earmarks of a circus if he did let it get out of control, which he never did. And he ordered him there in an hour, and I nervously waited for him to get there because I did not want to see him remanded to jail and his bail revoked. The jury however, never knew about that, never saw the pajama bottoms, he was wearing a jacket. In response to the other part of your question. You do want your client to be who the client is. You want them to certainly show respect, dress in a respectful manner. On the other hand, you don’t want your client to be a fake because jurors are going to smell a fake. And Michael Jackson has his way of dressing. It’s very original and different, and I wanted him to be exactly who he is at every day of that trial. And I would get letters and silly calls from people saying, “why don’t you put a Brooks Brothers suit and a Paisley tie on him?” And you know, this was just ridiculous. That wasn’t who he was, and if he tried to be phony people would know it. [b]Ambrogi:[/b] Let me just ask, what about the issue of jury selection in a celebrity trial? Are there special concerns, how do you deal with that? [b]Keller:[/b] Well there are special concerns. It’s a very tricky area, particularly now because in addition to all the usual problems you have selecting a jury, you try to get behind the often disingenuous answers, you also have the layer of wondering, “does this juror want to be on this trial because the juror is planning to write a book?” Or because the juror wants himself or herself to be a celebrity. Obviously, if that’s the case, the outcome of the case can be skewed very quickly. So, you want jurors who are not star struck, on the other hand, you want jurors who understand that the celebrity is facing a special set of issues and may actually be facing a more prejudicial environment than a non-celebrity. It’s a very, very difficult additional consideration. [b]Keller:[/b] Tom, how about you? Do you have any thoughts on that? [b]Mesereau:[/b] Well, I agree with everything Jennifer just said. Of course, the motives of the potential juror are very problematic in a case like that of a celebrity. And jurors begin to at times, think of themselves as celebrities. There are jurors who have served on celebrity cases who discover they’re tremendously in demand after the verdict. In the Jackson case, they were flown to New York that night to appear on Good Morning America. And there were all sorts of interview requests. Then, you saw a couple of months later, a few jurors wanting publicity and coming out and saying that maybe they rendered the wrong decision. And, it was obvious to me that they really missed the excitement of that case and didn’t want it to go away. So, human beings are affected by the limelight. They’re affected by cameras. They’re affected by the idea that they’re in a very unique position in life. And it’s very tricky. It’s very problematic. You do want jurors that you really believe are going to follow the judge’s instructions, take their job very, very seriously and not be prejudiced by what’s happening outside the courtroom. [b]Ambrogi:[/b] So we have judges applying make-up, 24/7 news coverage, jurors becoming celebrities themselves. How does this all add up? Can celebrities get a fair trial? [b]Keller:[/b] Well you know, if you look at the verdicts in the high-profile cases that we’ve been discussing, for the most part those verdicts are very rational verdicts. They make a lot of sense. The public was up in arms over the OJ Simpson verdict, but if you really looked at what happened in the trial, those jurors did not come up with an irrational judgment. The same with Robert Black, the same with Michael Jackson and the same with Scott Peterson. Those were all very reasonable verdicts that were not necessarily the ones that the media would have predicted. So, the jury system still works in celebrity trials, but the lawyer has to work much, much harder and be much more conscious of the numerous things that can go wrong, in order to do an adequate job representing the client. [b]Williams:[/b] I’m sure in the course of representing celebrities, you’ve taken some lessons about the way you handle your other cases. What advice would you offer to lawyers who don’t handle celebrity cases? Or some things that you’ve learned from what had happened in your celebrity cases that you both handled? Tom? [b]Mesereau:[/b] You know, I was asked after the Jackson verdict, “what is the most important case you’ve ever handled? ” And I said, “Every case is the most important case.” To that client, it’s their life, their freedom on the line. They are going through a nightmarish situation and you have to understand that everybody’s life is equally as important as everyone else’s. And I think you have to focus on every case as if someone’s life is in your hands. You have ethical and professional obligations to do your best to protect their freedom and life. So, I don’t see too much to learn from celebrity trials to apply to non-celebrity cases other than that everyone’s life is important. [b]Ambrogi:[/b] We’re just about at the end of our time and wanted to give you each an opportunity to offer final thoughts on this topic, and also to tell our listeners about how they can find out more about you or get in touch with you if they care to do that. Tom, let’s start with you. [b]Mesereau:[/b] Well, we have a justice system that is the best system in the world. It has a lot of problems, it makes mistakes, it can never be a perfect system but it is the best in the world. We have to respect it, we have to honor it and we have to constantly look for ways to improve it. [b]Ambrogi:[/b] And how can our listeners find out more about you? [b]Mesereau:[/b] I’m in Los Angeles. My number is […] – [url=]Mesereau & Yu website[/url] —

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You can hear the full interview (approximately 30 minutes long) by clicking the link below: [url=]Legal Talk[/url]

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