Investigator, Lawyer Quit Jackson’s Defense Team
Two controversial members of Michael Jackson’s defense team--a lawyer who blundered in court and a private investigator whose tactics and public comments drew fire--have resigned from the case as Jackson continues to battle allegations that he sexually molested a young boy.
Meanwhile, new details emerged Tuesday about a potential second child molestation victim who has been interviewed by police and social service workers during the last two months. The child and his parent, a former Jackson employee, were interviewed jointly by investigators and told them that Jackson fondled the boy’s buttocks on several occasions, according to a source close to the investigation.
Although the allegations made by the boy and his parent are less serious than those brought by a 13-year-old at the center of the criminal investigation, sources said they believe the other boy’s allegations could help the authorities’ case. “It’s good backup for the first case, but it can’t stand on its own,” one source said.
The new allegations come amid news of the shake-up in the Jackson camp. Private investigator Anthony Pellicano and lawyer Bertram Fields, one of Jackson’s team of legal advisers, resigned privately in recent weeks--Pellicano quit last Wednesday and Fields quit Dec. 3--sources close to the entertainer said.
Although at least one televised report suggested that the two men had been summoned to Jackson’s Neverland ranch Monday evening and fired, sources said neither man was at the ranch and neither was fired.
“I swear on my children this decision was not Michael Jackson’s,” Pellicano said in an interview Tuesday. “It was my sole decision. If I wanted to, I could be working on this case today.”
In a statement released by his office, Fields said he had resigned Nov. 23 and had put the resignation in writing Dec. 3.
“He has made no public announcement of this,” the statement said. “He felt that . . . it was not appropriate to publicly announce this.”
The departures of Pellicano and Fields rid Jackson of two men whose work had drawn mixed reviews, and their absence leaves the singer in the hands of two of Los Angeles’ best-known lawyers, Howard Weitzman and Johnnie Cochran Jr. Weitzman has represented Jackson since the child molestation accusations surfaced in August. Cochran was brought into the case after Fields announced in court one day that his client’s indictment appeared imminent.
Those comments were later corrected by Weitzman, but they antagonized some members of the Jackson camp, and Fields never again appeared in court on Jackson’s behalf. Fields made the remarks Nov. 23, the same day that his office said he told Jackson of his intention to resign.
Pellicano, meanwhile, was a high-profile spokesman for Jackson in the first weeks after news of the criminal investigation broke. Pellicano, a private investigator with a reputation for aggressive tactics, challenged the allegations with ferocity, accusing the boy’s father of attempting to extort $20 million out of Jackson and of resorting to the child molestation accusations only after Jackson’s representatives rebuffed his extortion attempts.
But he too drew fire for his work on Jackson’s behalf. In an effort to bolster the extortion claim, for instance, Pellicano released a tape recording of what he said was evidence of the extortion attempt, but the tape was heavily edited.
And although he publicly attacked the father for attempting to extort money from Jackson, neither Pellicano nor other representatives of Jackson ever complained to authorities until after The Times reported that the Los Angeles Police Department had never received an extortion complaint.
In the interview Tuesday, Pellicano continued to stand behind Jackson.
“In no way, shape or form does (my resignation) indicate that Michael Jackson is guilty,” Pellicano said. “Michael Jackson is not guilty, and all the things I said in the past I reaffirm.”
Pellicano insisted that he pulled out of the case because it was taking too much of his time and because his investigation was essentially complete. “The investigation has all been done and is now in the hands of the lawyers,” he said.
But although Pellicano’s investigation may be concluded, authorities continue to investigate allegations that Jackson sexually molested a 13-year-old boy earlier this year.
As part of that investigation, police and social workers interviewed another young boy in recent weeks, sources close to the investigation said. Police found that boy as they were questioning Jackson’s employees for information about the case, according to one source.
The source said the boy and the 13-year-old apparently are the only two children whose accounts have warranted reports by the county Department of Children’s Services, one of the agencies investigating the sexual molestation allegations.
Jackson, who has denied the allegations, dropped out of sight Nov. 12 after canceling his world tour and releasing an audiotape in which he said he was seeking treatment for an addiction to painkillers. He has not been heard from publicly since, but he returned to his sprawling Los Olivos ranch two weeks ago.
Sources close to the singer said they expect him to make another statement at noon today.
The shuffling of Jackson’s defense team comes at a particularly delicate time for the world-renowned entertainer. Authorities have notified Jackson’s lawyers that they expect their investigation to continue at least through February, while the boy’s attorney, Larry R. Feldman, is pushing ahead with his client’s civil suit.
A trial date in the lawsuit has been set for March 21, and Jackson is scheduled to be deposed on Jan. 18.
With two investigations proceeding simultaneously, sources in the Los Angeles legal community say Jackson is rumored to be spending about $100,000 a week for his defense. So far, however, he has lost several key rounds in court--failing to win a delay of the civil case and losing an attempt to prevent Feldman from turning over information to prosecutors who are pursuing possible criminal charges.
In addition to Cochran and Weitzman, lawyer Neil Papiano, who represents Elizabeth Taylor, is also being consulted about the progress of the case. Taylor is a close friend of Jackson’s, and she has appeared by his side frequently as he has battled the child molestation allegations.
Times staff writer Shawn Hubler contributed to this story.