Mesereau blasts tabloids over Jackson trial coverage
DAWN HOBBS, NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
January 19, 2007 7:23 AM
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
Throughout his 1 1/2-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 7 p.m. and up at 3 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
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
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."