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Jackson: I'm Making The Decisions

Less than a week before his next arraignment, Michael Jackson said Monday he has replaced his high-profile legal team in his child molestation case because "my life is at stake."

Attorneys Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman "decided to step down" from representing the pop star, Brafman said Sunday. He would not reveal exactly what prompted the move.

"The decision to withdraw is complicated and it relates to a number of complicated issues that are inappropriate to discuss at this time," he told CBS Radio News.

Jackson, however, said he had terminated their services.

"I have terminated the services of Attorneys Mark Geragos, Esquire, and Benjamin Brafman, Esquire, effective immediately," he said in a statement issued by spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain.

"I have hired Thomas Mesereau, a well-regarded Criminal Defense attorney, as lead counsel. Mr. Mesereau will work together with my longtime attorney, Steve Cochran. Prominent Santa Barbara attorney, Robert Sanger, will also remain on the team. Let me make it clear, I have not replaced my Defense team, I have replaced the lead attorneys. And, contrary to reports, this is a decision that I have personally made."

"It is imperative that I have the full attention of those who are representing me. My life is at stake. 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."

"I would like to thank Messrs. Geragos and Brafman for the work they have done, and I wish them well."

Thomas Mesereau Jr., Jackson's new lawyer, represented actor Robert Blake in his murder case until February, when he quit - the third lawyer to do so, citing, as did his predecessors, irreconcilable differences with Blake.

Mesereau returned to Los Angeles Sunday night after meeting with Jackson in the Orlando, Fla., area, where the singer is staying with his children, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman. He said he would join the singer in court when Jackson is arraigned on child molestation charges outlined in an indictment handed down last week.

"I'll have no comment on the developments until I appear in court Friday," Mesereau said.

Geragos said he, Brafman and Mesereau would notify Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville of the substitution of counsel during a conference call Monday. He and Brafman would not discuss reasons for the change.

"It was a decision that sort of has been happening over time, and I think at the end of the day it is probably better that it is resolved this way," Brafman said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

It's fairly early in the process for Jackson to change lawyers. So if you're ever going to have a delay, this would be the time when you're still a long way away from the trial," Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson told CBS News.

Dana Cole, an attorney who has worked closely with Mesereau on cases including Blake's, said Mesereau was approached by Jackson soon after he was charged with child molestation, but Mesereau was initially unwilling to take the case while he was tied up with the impending Blake case.

"Michael Jackson has always been very impressed with the pro bono work and contributions Tom has made in the African-American community," Cole said.

Mesereau provides free legal services at the predominantly black First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles, where he was honored recently for his contributions to minority communities. And every year he chooses a death penalty case in Alabama to defend at his own expense.

Levenson said the change could mean Jackson lost faith in his attorneys, or they in him. She also noted that Geragos' representation of Scott Peterson could be a liability in trying to find an unbiased jury, and that Mesereau would bring less baggage to the case.

"Prospective jurors would be asked how they feel about Jackson being represented by someone who represents Scott Peterson," she said. "And Mark is also going to be very busy with the Peterson case."

Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon had no comment, according to Jason Karpf of Tellem Worldwide, a firm handling media inquiries for Sneddon in the Jackson case.

Jackson is free on $3 million bail.

Jackson, 45, 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.

In his ABC interview, Brafman turned aside suggestions there was conflict between Jackson and his lawyers over antics such as the dance he performed atop an SUV in front of the courthouse at his first arraignment, or over the reported influence on Jackson from advisers in his family or the Nation of Islam.

"I don't think there is tension," Brafman said. But he did say of Jackson's advisers: "I think the team has to understand that it is not business as usual. They have to be focused. They have to understand if you win this case, nothing else matters. If you lose this case, nothing else matters."

A Jackson fan Web site has called on fans to attend Friday's court appearance.

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