Michael Jackson is replacing high-profile attorneys Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman in his child molestation case, the lawyers told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The pop superstar’s new lawyer will be Thomas Mesereau Jr., another well-known criminal defense attorney who represented actor Robert Blake in his murder case until they recently parted company.
“Based on recent developments and discussions with various persons in the Jackson camp, it became clear that it would be best if Mark and I decided to step down,” Brafman said. “And that’s what we elected to do.”
Asked why, Brafman said, “For reasons we choose not to discuss publicly.”
He added, “We both wish Michael well.”
Mesereau declined to answer questions Sunday. “I’ll have no comment on the developments until I appear in court Friday,” he said, referring to a pretrial hearing where Jackson is expected to be arraigned.
Jackson’s spokeswoman, Raymone K. Bain, said she was unaware of the change when asked about it by a reporter.
Geragos, who was in Northern California handling the Scott Peterson murder case on Sunday, said he, Brafman and Mesereau will notify Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville of the substitution of counsel during a conference call Monday. He declined to discuss reasons for the change.
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. He said Mesereau was unwilling to take the case at the time because he was tied up with the 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.
Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon had no comment, said Jason Karpf of Tellem Worldwide, a firm handling media inquiries for Sneddon in the Jackson case.
Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson said the change could mean Jackson lost faith in his attorneys, or they in him. She also said Geragos and Brafman may have previously agreed to take the case only through its preliminary stages.
Levenson said Geragos’ work on the Peterson case may be a factor. The case will not only take up much of Geragos’ time, but it also could have made it more difficult for Jackson to find an unbiased jury, she said.
Jackson’s case moved into a new phase last week when a grand jury secretly indicted him on child molestation charges. Contents of the indictment are not yet known and will be disclosed at his arraignment.