Jury selection for the Michael Jackson trial was delayed a week in deference to the death of lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr.’s sister.
Meanwhile, the media, chafing at the restrictions and gag orders laid down by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville, has gone to court to have them rescinded. Today, Attorney Theodore Boutrous, who represents AP, ABC, CNN, CBS, Fox News, Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post, will ask a three-judge panel of California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal to lift the gag order on attorneys in the case, to end the practice of holding hearings in secret, and for the release of several documents that have not been publicly released, or have been released only in heavily redacted form, including the indictment, several motions and search warrants.
The judge has said the unprecedented secrecy is necessary to protect the integrity of a case that otherwise threatens to turn into yet another “reality show” as opposed to an exercise in justice. And he certainly has a point.
“Americans have always viewed the courtroom as public theater. The danger is that unrestricted pretrial publicity can literally tip the balance,” Dirk Gibson, a communications and journalism professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, told the Christian Science Monitor.
“While I’m certainly not going to tell you that in the past decade there haven’t been some excesses of coverage … I think most of the coverage and most of the behavior has been appropriate. Covering a trial from inside and outside has far more benefits to society and to our judicial system than any possible disadvantages,” Roberta Brackman, a Minneapolis lawyer formerly with the NBC News legal team, said in the same article.
However, Robert Morvillo, the lawyer who defended Martha Stewart in her obstruction of justice case, thinks jury selection — right where are now in the Jackson case — is where the media madness is most keenly felt. “As much as [jurors] want to be fair and follow the judges’ instructions, it becomes virtually impossible to … make their minds a blank.”
And what will the jury think of Jackson, once it is selected? The NY Times examined the importance of personal appearance in court:
- ON Day 1 he looked angelic in his white three-piece suit with a rope of jeweled baubles at the waist and a gold armband. On Day 2 he chose a black suit and a red shirt accented with a choker pendant, a brocade vest and a royal crest.
….”Particularly in a case of this type,” said William B. Moffitt, a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, “what you don’t want the jury thinking is, ‘This guy is weird, and he’s so weird he might have done this.’ Would style play a role in that perception? Sure it can.”
Mary Fulginiti Jenow, a former federal prosecutor who is now a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles and a legal analyst for several cable television channels, shares his opinion. “Juries dissect every aspect, including what you wear,” she said. “Why give one juror or five jurors ammunition in any way to think less of you as a defendant?”
“That’s the problem with Michael Jackson,” Ms. Fulginiti Jenow said. “He looks like he’s ready to break out into the moonwalk.”
….some experts caution that well-known defendants who undergo a radical makeover risk sending the wrong signal to jurors: that they are pretending to be something they are not. “In this case you have to wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to let him be his flamboyant self,” said Bradley A. Pistotnik, a civil lawyer in Wichita, Kan.
“If he tones down his dress too much, it’s likely that the jury would perceive that he’s not been honest,” said Mr. Pistotnik, who is the author of “Divorce War!,” a book about strategies for women to win their divorce cases.
….Although his 12-member jury may end up including some fans, Mr. Jackson needs also to appeal to a pool of jurors from the conservative Santa Maria area of agricultural Santa Barbara County, lawyers and trial consultants said. These are people, the experts noted, who may not relate to his lifestyle and who may have read countless “Wacko Jacko” articles in the tabloids over the years, but who could still connect with the star on a human level.
“It’s in his interest to try to persuade the jury that his looks and appearance are about entertainment and that in his real life he’s closer to the mainstream,” said Joseph A. Rice, president of Jury Research Institute, a trial consulting firm in Alamo, Calif. “He just has to put the entertainer in one box and the 46-year-old man in another box and persuade the jury that he understands the boundaries.”
….Even Hollywood seems to find Mr. Jackson’s style over the top. Phillip Bloch, a celebrity stylist, described the defendant as “a freak show, plastic surgery aside.” He said Mr. Jackson’s courtroom choices look like fashion for women that would seem “a little odd” even on the red carpet.
“This is a time when people use wardrobe to help and camouflage realities,” Mr. Bloch said. “This is the time to be what they want you to be. He needs to put on a suit and tie and get a haircut.”
I.e., “Dude, you dress like a pedophile.”
The Washington Post looked at the same issue, but came to a surprising conclusion:
- For the first day of jury selection, Jackson dressed all in white. The obvious reading of the color choice was that it was meant to convey innocence. But Jackson was not merely wearing a white suit and shirt. He matched his white pants and shirt with a vest cut from white brocade and decorated with gilded charms. The white tailored jacket was emblazoned with a gold armband. Jackson accessorized the entire ensemble with a pair of reflective sunglasses. He looked as though he were dressed to lead a marching band through the streets of St-Tropez.
….Each time Jackson arrived at the courthouse he was accompanied, as one would expect, by his legal team. But he was also escorted into the building by a burly aide with an umbrella. While Jackson may find the umbrella a necessity for protecting himself from the sun, he might have been better off symbolically had he carried it himself. Toting his own umbrella would have helped him look just a smidge less entitled — something that defendants generally find useful. As it was, one could easily have mistaken the umbrella for a modern version of the giant fern leaves used to shade a pharaoh.
….For Jackson, wearing gold armbands and bejeweled vests might be a savvy decision. They underscore the widely held belief that Jackson exists in his own world. That he doesn’t quite grasp the rules of adulthood because he never made the transition from childhood. Each ostentatious flourish sets Jackson apart.
His attire emphasizes that he is nothing like his so-called peers. And if he is so unlike them, the logic might go, do the same standards apply? Can the same assumptions be made about Jackson as might be made about a next-door neighbor?
Conventional wisdom says that a defendant should look engaged but not fretful, confident but not cocky. Jackson’s clothes make him look distracted and narcissistic. It’s a unique courtroom style for a one-of-a-kind defendant. And it may prove to be more beneficial to Jackson’s case than a simple navy suit and tie ever could be.
Interesting point, but if he looks like a pedophile, talks like a pedophile (the infamous Bashir TV special where Jackson defended sleeping with children other than his own), moonwalks like a pedophile, then … ?