Guest Column: Michael Jackson and the law of spider webs


The Michael Jackson case is fraught with peril; peril for everyone involved: Jackson, District Attorney Tom Sneddon, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., former Jackson attorney Mark Geragos, Judge Rodney S. Melville, private investigator Bradley Miller, psychologist Stan J. Katz, the 14-year-old alleged victim, his mother and father, a myriad of Santa Barbara County Sheriffs deputies, and current and former Jackson employees to name a few.

The charges are disgusting and ugly and, without proof of guilt, have already further tainted Jackson’s public persona, stripping away forever any vestige of his Peter Pan image of childlike wonderment and innocence. These charges include allegations of child molestation, providing alcohol to a minor, abduction, conspiracy, etc.

Because of Jackson’s eccentric and often-clownish behavior, including his admitted close relationships to young boys, especially at his private playground at Neverland in Santa Barbara, he is highly vulnerable to continuous accusations of sexual improprieties with these child companions. Thus Jackson is a ripe subject for extortion by those who would prey upon his vulnerabilities and eccentric behaviors. In a sense, he not only invites such accusations, but he reinforces it with his bizarre countenance. The point simply is that he is the proverbial sitting duck.

Sneddon’s responsibility goes far beyond taking easy potshots at Jackson. He has a duty to see to it that his witnesses are telling the truth; he has a duty to gather evidence in a lawful manner. If he knows, for example, that private investigator Miller was working for Jackson’s then attorney Geragos and was gathering information for Geragos as an attorney work-product and attorney-client recital, then such information must be given to the judge who ultimately will decide whether a search warrant should have been issued for the search of Miller’s office, the scope of the warrant, and any protections and restrictions to which the sheriffs deputies must have adhered to in serving that warrant. The judge might have ordered a monitor to see that possible privileged information was not reviewed by the district attorney until the judge, himself, had the opportunity to rule on its admissibility.

The public generally thinks that celebrities and powerful people escape justice while the poor are entangled in its meshes. Nineteenth century French novelist Honoré de Balzac noted that the “laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.” It has been true in the past and I am sure it will be true in the future. We all know the cases in the recent past that suggest there is some truth to this axiom. But the measure and strength of our system of justice is when we treat those we detest most with the same objectivity as we would like to be treated, were we suspected of a crime.

At this writing we’re not privileged to know exactly what evidence has already been suppressed by the judge because of alleged improprieties regarding the seizure of evidence at the private investigator’s office and at Neverland. What we do know is that if the defense can show that allegedly critical evidence to the prosecution was seized in excess of the authority of the warrant, then such evidence must be suppressed and any fruit of the “poisonous tree” derived from such illegal seizure (and not otherwise discoverable) must likewise be suppressed.

If this happens, then we would be left with the task of weighing the credibility of the key witnesses, namely the alleged child-victim and his parents, and possibly some disgruntled former employees. It is reported that the young alleged victim has made inconsistent statements about claimed molestations. Further, the mother of the alleged victim appears to have been damaged by the defense examination. A strong suggestion of money-hungry greed driving these allegations has been made by Mesereau. Everyone knows that Jackson has paid a lot of money in the past to put to rest similar allegations. While that makes him an easy target, it also may mean that he has committed such acts in the past; in short, they are not mutually exclusive.

Finally, it has been reported that the young man to whom millions was paid may now testify as to what allegedly happened to him nine years ago. A settlement agreement was signed in which he purportedly agreed never to reveal the terms of the settlement or the contents of his allegations. The question for the judge is whether such an agreement contravenes public policy. If so, such testimony might be admissible and damming.

Jackson is fighting for his life, and so is our justice system. With so much innuendo and rumor, it is important, as some wag said a long time ago, to “believe that for which we have sufficient evidence and to suspend our judgment when we have not.”