© 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.
June 14, 2005
By Linda Deutsch
SANTA MARIA – Before each searing cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses in Michael Jackson’s trial, the imposing lawyer with the shock of white hair told them, “My name is Tom Mesereau and I speak for Mr. Jackson.”
The mantra, meaning “I’m on his side, not yours,” was stated firmly to Jackson’s teenage accuser and his mother, to accusers from cases decades old and to celebrities such as Jay Leno.
Often witnesses found themselves on the defensive. The accuser’s mother would turn to the jury, point a finger at Mesereau and declare, “He’s wrong!”
One witness, a former Jackson security guard, whimpered, “I want to go home.”
Jamie Masada, a comedy club owner, tried comic gibes to spar with Mesereau.
“Me and you, we can have a comedy team,” he told the lawyer at one point. And when there were questions about another comic’s talents, Masada snapped, “I find you more funny than she is.”
Mesereau replied acerbically: “Maybe I’m in the wrong profession.”
The irony wasn’t lost in a courtroom where Mesereau had emerged as the dominant legal personality, and where he won acquittal on all counts for Jackson yesterday.
“He is probably the best cross-examiner I’ve ever seen in a courtroom,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who sat in on the trial.
Attorney Dana Cole, Mesereau’s classmate at Hastings College of Law in Berkeley, remembers “the Mez” as a good student, but not top of the class, being more interested in hanging out at local cafes and meeting people. “That’s how he learned to read people.”
Mesereau, 54, was born in West Point, N.Y. His father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, was a close aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur and was on the battleship Missouri with him when Japan signed the surrender documents to end World War II.
Mesereau did his undergraduate work at Harvard and was an amateur boxer, studied international relations at the London School of Economics and received his law degree from Hastings. He had settled into a practice in corporate business law when he changed course.
Cole remembers a career-altering lunch with Mesereau 15 years ago.
“He talked about transitioning to criminal law, which he thought was more interesting,” Cole said. “He told me he was going to read every book on criminal lawyers and he was going to become a great criminal lawyer.”
He quickly scored an enviable record of winning acquittals in a wide array of jury trials on accusations ranging from securities fraud to sex crimes, gang violence and murder.
Once a year, he travels to Alabama to defend a death penalty case at his expense and prides himself on saving downtrodden defendants from execution.
In early 2003, he was tapped to defend Robert Blake against murder charges. He succeeded in winning dismissal of a conspiracy charge and obtained the actor’s release on bail before the two parted company over undisclosed personal differences.
It wasn’t long before Mesereau had a new high-profile client, when Jackson decided in April 2004 that he couldn’t abide Mark Geragos dividing his time between his case and that of Scott Peterson.
Mesereau cleared his calendar and has represented no one else since he took on the Jackson case.