Thomas Mesereau recently traveled to Santa Barbara for the first time since Michael’s trial. He spoke to about 200 people regarding the role of the media in high-profile cases, using Michael’s case as a main example.
He explained how deplored the tabloid journalism and the media coverage of events for sensationalizing and distorting the facts. He also said that the Santa Barbara prosecutors made “savage and cruel attacks” on Michael. He praised Judge Melville for keeping tight control over the courtroom, and also praised Robert Sanger, a local attorney, for the work he did to help Michael.
He went on to specify some of the media’s foolishness in their search for sensationalism and explained why he wanted to keep the trial in Santa Maria, what type of jurors were acceptable. He also commented on how he personally dealt with the stress of such a trial, by going to bed at seven p.m., rising at three a.m., had long walks, good food, and also living at a distance from the press.
He said he thought that lawyers should resist the personal publicity of a trial and try the case in the courtroom, not in the media. They should focus on their clients’ interest and welfare.
He decried the ‘legal analysts’ who had never set foot in the Santa Maria courtroom, and who would vociferously discuss and make judgements on ‘evidence’ they had not even heard.
To check out the local people who would form part of the jury, he explained that he had gone to Santa Maria to find out the local general attitude to Michael. He found that the people were ‘conservative, but independent-minded’ and came to the conclusion that Santa Maria was ‘an honourable, fair, decent community, and that he’d get a fair trial.’
His most telling statement came when he said; “I picked jurors who would be open to understanding him and his world and that he dances to a slightly different drummer.”
Dawn Hobbs, a journalist from News Press has filed the following article covering Mr. Mesereau’s first appearance in Santa Barbara since he successfully represented Michael in his trial in 2005.
“In his first visit to Santa Barbara since winning the Michael Jackson trial in 2005, Thomas Mesereau spoke to a group of about 200 people Thursday evening about the media’s role in high-profile cases.
The audience was riveted as the distinguished criminal defense lawyer discussed how trial coverage has become an important part of American society, using elements of the Jackson case, the most covered criminal trial in history, to make his points.
“A lot of my views are somewhat controversial and not well liked,” he told the packed room at the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort, “but they are heartfelt views.”
Throughout his one and half-hour speech, Mr. Mesereau lambasted the tabloid media, claiming they sensationalized and distorted the facts of the Jackson trial, and also Santa Barbara County prosecutors for the “savage and cruel attacks” made against his client. But he praised Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville for keeping a tight rein in the courtroom and Robert Sanger, a prominent local attorney, for his work on the Jackson defense team.
Mr. Mesereau, who was named by Barbara Walters as one of her “10 Most Fascinating People” and by ‘GQ’ magazine as one of the “Top Men of the Year” after the Jackson trial, was featured as part of Fielding Graduate University’s Distinguished Speaker Series and sponsored by the doctorate program in media psychology, the first of its kind in the country.
Noting the intense media competition in the Jackson case, Mr. Mesereau recounted how a tabloid reporter called his cell phone one day:
“This reporter said, ‘Give me some hot documents and I’ll tell you who is sleeping with who in the DA’s office.’ I said; ‘First of all, there’s a gag order and I will not violate it. Secondly, I don’t care who is sleeping with who.” The audience erupted into laughter.
He also offered behind-the-scenes glimpses into why he wanted to keep the trial in Santa Maria, what kind of jurors he sought, and how he personally dealt with the anxiety of such a high-profile case, in bed by seven p.m. and up at three a.m., long walks with co-counsel Susan Yu, vitamins, good food and a condo on the other side of town from where throngs of journalists were staying.
Referring to comments in his article recently published in the ‘L.A. Daily Journal’, Mr. Mesereau noted lawyers should resist the lure of cameras in high-profile cases and instead “focus on the client’s interest and welfare.” His intent, he said, was to win his case in the courtroom, not in the media.
A lot of the coverage of the Jackson trial, he said, was erroneously labeled as news but was instead entertainment, perpetuated by television’s use of legal analysts who had not even set foot in the Santa Maria courtroom and would “yell and scream and wave their arms around” about evidence they had never seen.
Mr. Mesereau shared that when numerous colleagues advised him to request the trial be moved out of Santa Maria because of the conservative nature of the city’s residents, he said he decided to check it out for himself.
“I went up before the trial and would hang out in local bars and restaurants, dressed in my jeans and just minding my own business,” he said. “After a couple of weeks of doing that, I concluded that people there were not hostile to Michael Jackson, they liked and appreciated him in the community.”
He described residents as “conservative, but independent-minded. I decided Santa Maria was an honorable fair, decent community and that he’d get a fair trial, which he did.”
Although he used a jury consultant who conducted telephone polls and then charted the data, Mr. Mesereau said he disregarded it and used his instincts when selecting jurors. While many might think women with children would not be good jurors in a child molestation case, Mr. Mesereau said, he wanted these kinds of jurors because he thought they’d be more open to understanding Mr. Jackson, especially when “crazed prosecutors” were trying to portray him as “asexual, homosexual and weird.”
“I picked jurors who I thought would be open to understanding him and his world and that he dances to a slightly different drummer.”