When you give the judge a list of potential witnesses in a case, and when you notify the other side of the people you might want to testify, you are merely covering your bases in case, for some reason, those folks are needed as witnesses at trial. You do this because if you do not list a potential witness at the outset of a trial you may not later be allowed to call that witness to the stand. So lawyers, because they are lawyers, routinely flood their witness lists with every conceivable witness they possibility could want or need later.
Having said all that, the witness list offered by Jackson Monday surely stands as one of the longest and most bizarre in the annals of criminal trials. This should come as no surprise to anyone. As noted here a few weeks ago, Jackson is probably the most bizarre famous defendant ever to stand in the dock and if the guy hangs with Diana Ross and Elizabeth Taylor then I suppose he is entitled to at least name them to come help him in his darkest hour. And if you could call Jay Leno as a witness on your behalf, wouldn't you?
So what would these celebrities, and media personalities, bring to Jackson's table? CBS News, the Associated Press, and others report that some, like actor Chris Tucker, basketball player Kobe Bryant, and director Brett Ratner, have had contact with Jackson's accuser. If this is true, they naturally could come and testify about their personal experiences with the young man and his family and, presumably, those experiences support Jackson's view of the case. For example, if the family of Jackson's accuser behaved oddly toward Bryant, a scenario making the rounds early Tuesday morning, then surely a jury would find that relevant in judging the case against Jackson.
Likewise, CBS News legend Ed Bradley is on the list, presumably because he interviewed the family of Jackson's accuser and could offer personal insight into what they were like. But it is harder to evaluate why other big names on the list are there. Stevie Wonder? Corey Feldman? David Blaine? A Backstreet Boy and his brother? Are they on the list because they can testify generally about what life was like at Jackson's Neverland Ranch? If so, they may never get their chance. The testimony of all of these witnesses still has to pass the test of relevance in order for the judge to permit it to be heard by jurors. Just because Jackson may be a good host doesn't necessarily mean that he isn't also a child rapist.
Are they listed because they've had experiences with families like the one now accusing Jackson? Is the Jackson trial going to turn into a trial about the pitfalls of celebrity? About how "regular" people prey on the famous? Don't laugh. It easily could happen. I can see why a defense attorney would want jurors thinking cynically about the often-sycophantic relationship between star and fan. But, again, this testimony has to be relevant in some way to the charges against Jackson and to his defense and I don't think the judge will allow into this trial testimony about how other families might deal strangely with other celebrities.
Then there are Ross, Taylor and Stevie Wonder. Are they going to be called to serve as character witnesses on Jackson's behalf? Don't bet on it. Much of that sort of testimony would be deemed irrelevant by the judge unless Jackson himself testifies and I'm not sure that is going to happen. Nor do I think it is guaranteed that any of these witnesses will be allowed to testify about what Jackson may have told them about his relationship with the accuser and his family. That would be hearsay and you can bet that prosecutors would object loudly if Jackson's attorneys tried to get his words into the trial without actually putting him onto the stand where he'd have to be cross-examined.
Meanwhile, both sides listed former Jackson attorney Mark Geragos as a potential witness and Jackson's attorneys named chief prosecutor Tom Sneddon as a potential witness. I would be shocked if the judge forces Sneddon to answer questions the defense wants to ask him about what Jackson believes is the prosecutor's vendetta against him. The question of prosecutorial motive almost never makes its way into a criminal trial unless there is fairly clear proof going in that a district attorney went forward with a case for the wrong reasons. Just because Sneddon and Jackson don't like each other isn't reason enough. As for Geragos, well, it depends. Prosecutors likely will want him to testify about things that Jackson's current lawyers will say is protected by the attorney-client privilege. And Jackson's attorneys likely will want Geragos to testify about his dealings, if any, with the accuser and his family.
You know how some of those television specials, the awards shows or the musical specials, have a little asterisk on the bottom of the commercials with the disclaimer "scheduled to appear" on them? The idea there is to protect the show if any promoted star doesn't show up. The witness list in the Jackson case ought to have that same disclaimer. Even though it reads like a Who's Who of Hollywood "B" personalities don't expect all of them to show up on stage.
By Andrew Cohen