Jackson's Lawyer Gets a Warning

Special to The Times

The defense in the Michael Jackson child-molestation trial will probably rest early next week, the prosecution said Friday after a fierce day that saw the judge threaten to sanction the lead defense attorney.

"The defense has indicated they may be resting as early as Tuesday," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Zonen told Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville. The defense did not comment.

Originally, the defense, which began calling witnesses May 5, said it would need six to eight weeks to present its case, including a host of celebrity witnesses. In recent days, however, defense attorneys indicated that they would need far less time, and the only stars still expected are actor Chris Tucker and Jay Leno, host of "The Tonight Show."

Once the defense rests, the prosecution is expected to take two to three days to present its rebuttal material, followed possibly by another round from the defense.

Closing arguments and instructions to the jury are expected to take several more days.

The announcement of the impending end of the trial's current phase came after one of the more contentious days in the proceedings.

Melville said he might sanction the lead defense attorney over testimony from Jackson's former lawyer, Mark Geragos.

Geragos, who represented Jackson from February 2003 to April 2004, was called as a defense witness last week.

But testimony was abruptly halted by a dispute over a waiver that Jackson had signed, allowing Geragos to testify despite the pop star's legal right to keep all discussions with his attorney confidential.

When Geragos took the stand, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. assured Melville, prosecutors and the jury that the defendant had waived privilege.

"I can represent to the court that there is a waiver of attorney-client privilege, so Mr. Geragos can testify," Mesereau said.

Geragos asked to see a written copy of the waiver but did not receive it until after being questioned by the defense. At that time, he said, he discovered that the waiver covered only the period before Jackson's arrest in November 2003.

The defense, in effect, had gained a tactical advantage by presenting a favorable witness, then limiting the prosecution's opportunity for cross-examination.

On Friday, the judge gave the prosecution broad leeway to use the questioning of Geragos to its advantage. Outside the presence of the jury, an irate Melville also gave Mesereau a warning.

"I feel deceived by Mr. Mesereau," Melville said. "Although I have reached no conclusion at this time, I am considering sanctions against Mr. Mesereau."

Possible penalties could include a fine or a contempt citation. Zonen used his questions to remind the jury of points the prosecution wanted to stress in its case against the pop star.

Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy at Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in 2003.

He is also charged with giving minors alcohol to aid in the commission of a felony and of conspiring to keep the accuser and his family from leaving the ranch. If convicted on all charges, he faces more than 20 years in prison.

Zonen questioned Geragos on most of the 28 acts the prosecution contends form the conspiracy, including surveillance of the accuser's family, the closing of their apartment and the recording of conversations.

Prosecutors also assert that Jackson planned to bring the family to Brazil to make them vanish.

Geragos, citing the privilege, refused to answer at least five questions.

Zonen pressed him about surveillance videos showing the accuser's sister leaving school and the home of the boy's grandparents. Zonen asked Geragos about the preparation of the videos by private investigator Bradley Miller.

"I didn't order him to go out and sit in a car and watch them," Geragos answered, distancing himself from the investigator. "I gave him a directive to find out who they are and who they were meeting with."

At least five times, Geragos refused to answer a prosecution question because of the waiver issue.

In another testy exchange, Zonen questioned Geragos about one of Miller's investigators who, witnesses testified, was seen throwing stones at a house used by the accuser's family.

"Did you know that he was throwing stones at the house?" Zonen asked.

"I don't know, and I find it hard to believe," Geragos replied.

"You would not have approved of such behavior of an agent operating on your behalf, correct?" Zonen asked.

"Right, I don't send people out to throw stones at houses."

Geragos later defended his investigator.

"I did not want him to lose track of" the accuser's mother. "I did not want her to do exactly what she has done in this case: Get a lawyer and all of a sudden get a false allegation," Geragos said.

Geragos also said that Jackson had never personally mentioned any plans to send the accuser's family to Brazil.

Times correspondent Connell reported from Santa Maria and Times staff writer Muskal reported from Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
60°