Spotlight on MJ's lawyers

The legal team of Dr Murray, the doctor who stands accused for possibly causing the death of Michael Jackson, is indeed an odd bunch. Apart from anything else, they look grumpy and sulky too much of the time.

"There's a tall guy with grey hair, often looking remarkably like Arsene Wenger, the saturnine and gloomy ( and awfully over-publicised ) manager of a leading English football team. With all the typical jolliness of an undertaker, he's dealt with one or two witnesses, though not noticeably more successfully than the lead attorney. 

There's a smaller guy with a gleaming head, apparently an experienced local LA lawyer, who matches the others in ineffectiveness, though looking more brisk. Getting nowhere more rapidly isn't necessarily an advantage. They make so many silly, time-wasting objections - the sort of thing a weak lawyer does, not expecting to succeed, but so as to appear hard-working, and to get his name into the transcript on every page.

The prosecutors

The prosecutors, on the other hand, have been excellent - coherent, organised, and calm, especially David Walgren. What a contrast this case has been to the grotesque OJ Simpson courtroom, where a bunch of Prima Donna lawyers performed, while witnesses under-performed.   

Judge Michael Pastor, has been very impressive indeed - affable, polite but firm, keeping excellent control of the situation, and avoiding the sort of grandstanding with which some other judges (such as the animated Ito in the OJ Simpson case) have ruined other cases.

Chernoff, the lead attorney

The lead attorney is Mr Ed Chernoff . He has an unfortunate combination of characteristics - he is both clumsy and boring, and so monotonous that I find myself nodding off to sleep during his arguments or questions. He has an art of missing obviously critical points, while belabouring trivia. He'll start on one meandering question, then abruptly abandon it and start another. He will make a failed challenge, and then try the same challenge again, as though hoping that the judge may have nodded off, and will now make a different ruling on the same point.

He has the air of someone wholly out of his depth, but who doesn't realise how deep the depth actually is. He may know exactly what he is doing and precisely the impression he wishes to create, but often appears bumbling, floundering, and overwhelmed. He keeps all his notes on an IPad, usually in his grasp, but at times looks adrift when looking through the papers at hand.

Though not nationally famous, he's obviously well thought-of in his home town. He's a partner in the Houston firm of Stradley, Chernoff & Alford. Born in 1962, he studied accountancy before taking his law degree. He first worked in the DA's office, and the practice website boasts of his success rate.

"Mr. Chernoff has tried many high-profile cases throughout the United States. He rarely loses," it says. "Mr. Chernoff maintains the record for the quickest acquittal in the Southern District of the United States Courts, when a jury acquitted his client after only 15 minutes of deliberations," and it adds: "Many of his former clients consider him a saviour and a friend." Modesty, of course, is a major fault.

He seems at times to try word magic, repeating words he wants to register with the jury, like insisting that the initially surprised but very much on-the-ball EMR rescue men were "frozen", as though that might invalidate their devastating evidence. Yet he misspelled Jackson's name (Micheal) on one of his charts.

He's worked closely with Murray since the very early stages of this case, and describes him as a good friend now. Though he was said to have promised to get a high-profile LA lawyer, he’s handling it himself, and reportedly "bristles" when asked what previous big cases he has had, saying: "I've had lesbian knife fights that meant a lot to me, OK? " Touching.

It’s not clear why he seems to have been unable to find a suitable high-level Californian lawyer to take over the case - there were surely many who would be well able to do so, and may have valued the publicity - did they not want to do so? He's said it just didn't work out. Some he didn't like, some wanted more money than Dr Murray could afford. And he seems to have rather wanted this very high profile case for himself. Asked how he will be paid, he admits Murray will be short of cash, saying (according to the LA Times again) that: "He doesn't have a pot and he's running out of pee."

One of his partners was criticised, rightly, by the judge for discussing the case, the witnesses and the strategy, on a major TV show.  

Though so far rather bland in court, he's an interesting character, according to details reported by the LA  Times and others. It's said he developed chest pains while preparing the case, was checked by Dr Murray and after a battery of tests was told the pains were symptoms of anxiety. He had a habit of chewing unlit cigars. .He may be more determined and thorough than he has to be. For instance, though he was given a courtesy licensing to practise law in California, he insisted on taking and passing the very difficult Bar Exam there.

Oh, and I read that he has two sons - named "Fate" and "Chance". Now that can hardly be random, and absolutely has to be significant.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, Health24, October 2011)

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