Jackson Lawyers Feud

Michael Jackson, left, and his attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., arrive at the Santa Barbara County Superior court Friday, Feb. 25, 2005, in Santa Maria, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Neitzel, Pool)
AP/Pool/Wireimage
Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.


There is trouble in paradise for Team MJ. Defense attorneys for the King of Pop quarreled, big time -- I saw it with my own eyes on videotape -- even as the conspiracy and molestation case moves closer to its next critical phase. The battle is definitely not a good sign for those of you out there hoping that Michael Jackson will be able to use his upcoming defense case to push the advantages it has gained during a meandering prosecution case. But the fight isn't likely to change the course of the case in any meaningful way.

Lead attorney Thomas Mesereau clearly is still in charge. But one of Jackson's other attorneys, longtime Jackson family counselor Brian Oxman, was seen in a very public spat with Mesereau on the same day that Oxman's "Notice of Disassociation" to the case was posted on the court's Web site. The filing puts the world on notice that Oxman is no longer representing Jackson in an official legal capacity.

You would think that Jackson's lawyers have enough on their plate fending off the unwieldy -- but so far not unreasonable case -- against their client without spending time and energy cat-fighting with one another.

It is unusual, but not unheard of, for the heat of trial to generate friction, even job-losing friction, among defense attorneys. You get a group of ego-inflated attorneys together for any great period of time and you are bound to see conflict, and contentiousness, and the sort of finger-pointing that spread out onto the sidewalk Monday outside the courthouse. In fact, I'm surprised that more lawyers don't fight with one another when they aren't sparring in court with lawyers on the other side. Despite what you may think about them (despite what I sometimes think about them) lawyers generally can keep their acts together when it counts the most.

What makes this kafuffle a little unusual is that it happened so publicly, and so explosively, and at a time when both combatants ought to be focusing solely upon how best to cement into place whatever doubts jurors may have about the case against Jackson. It is also weird because Oxman's role in the case is so minor -- he is a family attorney who doesn't have a ton of high-profile trial experience -- that it hardly seems necessary for Mesereau to have had to spend any energy pushing Oxman out of the way. Usually, if there is a clear "big dog" in a case all the other, lesser dogs steer clear. Oxman may be a fine attorney, but he is no Thomas Mesereau -- and everyone involved in the case knows it.

Were Mesereau and Company seeking to embarrass Oxman for some transgression that has not yet become apparent? Was Oxman pushing needlessly and futilely for a greater role than anyone else thought he deserved? Did he fail or refuse a minor assignment? Did he just not get the hint that he wasn't doing enough good in the case to warrant whatever problems he may have been causing? Whatever occurred, you get the clear sense that Oxman became the "lawyer who wouldn't leave" the case, so much so that a written "notice" had to be filed to ensure that he wouldn't be hanging around the courthouse for the next few months.

On a broader and deeper scale, the attorney scuffle is a sign, yet another sign, that Jackson has terrible difficulty handling the people around him. It's a serious problem that obviously has led him to the place where he finds himself today, knee deep in a case that could send him to prison for a very long time. Jackson made a good choice in lassoing Mesereau (although it's possible that Mesereau also picked Jackson). But aside from that, he hasn't exactly bowled me over with his personnel decisions. Most everyone around Jackson, it seems, at least many of the characters who make up the story of the case against him, seem to have serious sleaze issues. It's no wonder Jackson has been in and out of court so much over the past decade or so.

So Oxman is out. Loudly. But Mesereau will continue to hammer away at lame prosecution witnesses who say moderately incriminating things about Jackson but then have their credibility and accuracy shredded during cross examination. I've been gone from the Jackson trial for nearly one month but when I returned today the dynamic was precisely as it had been in late March. Bad prosecution witnesses. An unfocused prosecution case. Many conflicting versions of the same events. Same as it ever was, here in the paradise they call Santa Maria, California.
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.