Has Michael Jackson hired the most off-beat lawyer around?
Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. is the 53-year-old son of Irish and Italian immigrants who has won numerous awards from black churches and African-American groups for his pro bono work for poor, minority clients.
Mesereau grew up in the conservative Army town of West Point, N.Y., the son of an assistant football coach, yet he and his family became acolytes of a well-known radical priest who opposed the Vietnam War and wanted reforms in the Catholic Church.
A former amateur boxer who wears his silver hair long and shaggy like a Sunset Boulevard rock star, Mesereau would stand out in any group – but especially with his Los Angeles law partners, all of whom are black.
“I guess I’m not your typical lawyer,” Mesereau told the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, in 2001 – an understatement to say the least. The article noted that Mesereau is so in love with the underdog that he even holds season tickets for the NBA’s hapless Clippers over the star-studded Lakers.
“I’ve always kind of cut my own path.”
Indeed, it was the Harvard-educated Mesereau’s long history of mostly successful work for African-American clients that attracted Jackson’s closest advisers, a group led by his brother Randy and by the Nation of Islam’s Leonard Muhammad.
Mesereau has worked for one other black celebrity client, former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. The lawyer claims that his efforts caused the San Bernardino district attorney’s office to drop a possible rape charge against the boxer.
His highest-profile endeavor, however, was representing former “Baretta” TV star Robert Blake, accused of killing his wife. But the two men had a falling out, and Blake – still awaiting trial – hired a new legal team.
Most of Mesereau’s cases have a much lower profile. In one instance, he went to Birmingham, Ala., to represent a homeless black man accused of killing a 21-year-old white woman. Two local attorneys sought Mesereau’s help after receiving death threats.
Using expert witnesses on problems with cross-racial identification for the first time in Alabama history, Mesereau won an acquittal on all charges.