Exclusive: Jacko Dream Team Named
Johnnie Cochran may not be on Michael Jackson’s dream team but he nonetheless has helped shape it.
It was Cochran, according to my sources, who persuaded Jackson to add New York attorney Ben Brafman as co-counsel with Mark Geragos on his child molestation case. Brafman, considered a magician for his superlative work on the Sean "P. Diddy" Combs shoot-out case, will gain permission to practice in California and begin slowly easing into the case.
"If all goes according to plan, Brafman will eventually take over and Geragos will leave," said my source, who knows this business inside and out. Geragos essentially will be used now to buy time and stall Jackson’s case, using the Peterson trial as an excuse. Brilliant, I say!
Two other lawyers will join Geragos and Brafman on the Jackson case. Steve Cochran, a partner with Jackson’s longtime attorney Zia Modabber, will join the case along with a slew of his investigators and experts. Cochran and Modabber saw Jackson through all of his other lawsuits and public testimony last year.
Also onboard, I am told, is Robert Sanger, a respected criminal defense lawyer from Santa Barbara. This is a smart move since Jackson needs a lawyer who Judge Melville is comfortable with and knows from previous experiences — and who knows how Melville works? Sanger will balance Brafman’s brash, "My Cousin Vinny" style of law that is accepted in New York City but may be something of a rude awakening in placid Santa Maria.
Meantime, a note to "Entertainment Tonight" and other hyperbolic programs: there were not "thousands of fans" at yesterday’s hearing, but about 250. Second, "Michael Jackson’s new $20 million mansion" is a misnomer. Jackson pre-paid $700,000 for six months’ rent on a Beverly Hills estate. He does not have the money to buy it, and probably doesn’t have the cash to stay there past six months unless certain of his business deals in the works come to fruition. So calm down, Mary Hart.
Finally, yesterday’s cast of characters was notable for two people who joined their many Nation of Islam comrades. They were Louis Farrakhan’s son and Grace, the Jackson children’s nanny, who were the last to come through the metal detector. Farrakhan’s son-in-law, Leonard Muhammad, was also very much a presence, along with two dozen Nation of Islam "guards."
"If Grace was there, and so was Michael’s whole family, who was with his kids?" a Jackson insider asked rhetorically yesterday. "Nation of Islam minders," was the answer. "I wonder," asked the source, "how Debbie Rowe felt about that." Rowe, the mother of Prince and Paris, Jackson’s two eldest children, has expressed concern about NOI involvement with the kids because she is Jewish and the group is notably anti-Semitic.
The 20th annual Sundance Film Festival got off to a good start yesterday with some wobbly fictional fare but startlingly good documentaries.
The most stunning of these, and certain to win prizes from now through the Oscars in 2005, was Ivy Meeropol’s "Heir to an Execution." Meeropol is the grand-daughter of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose case remains a hot button in American history some fifty years after the young couple was executed. In 1953, crowds took to the streets in droves to protest — and in some cases to support — the killing of the Rosenbergs for allegedly selling secrets about the Atomic bomb to the former Soviet Union.
Meeropol, an attractive blonde journalist in her early thirties, is the daughter of the Rosenbergs’ eldest son, Michael. (He and his brother Robert had their names changed when a courageous couple adopted them.) Wisely, she used herself as a focal point for her investigation in the film as she tried to discover what happened to her grandparents and the family from whom her father has been cut off for half a century.
"Heir to an Execution" works because it is not an apologia for the Rosenbergs. Meeropol carefully examines all sides of the case, interviewing nearly all the parties still living including a quite lucid 103 year old friend of Julius Rosenberg who tells, with poignancy, the story of how the other man saved his life by keeping his secrets. Meeropol also neatly addresses the betrayal of the Rosenbergs by Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, and his wife, who are still living on Long Island. Greenglass conceded to Bob Simon on "60 Minutes" in a 1991 interview that he’d been put up to lying and changing his testimony in order to make his sister and brother-in-law look guiltier than they were.
"Heir to an Execution" is a production from Sheila Nevin’s documentary division at HBO, but the cable studio is offering the picture to outside studios for theatrical sales. At least one interested party yesterday was Mark Gill, head of the new Warner Independent Pictures, the hopeful "classic" arm of the lumbering Warner Bros. Whoever picks up Meeropol’s documentary will have a vitally important work in their library forever, and one that every American should see without fail. By comparison, things like Michael Jackson’s ongoing saga and other scandals that occupy the small corners of our minds, seem quite trivial and even a little ridiculous.
Jennifer Aniston and husband Brad Pitt are expected Saturday in Park City to support fellow "Friend" Courteney Cox Arquette for the debut of a movie she’s in called "November." This, of course, is just what Sundancers complain about, but also love -- the arrival of celebrities. Jane Fonda will also be here today, a welcome addition to the hub-bub certainly. Some celebs have been causing a little trouble, which always is good for the whispering that takes place right before the lights go down. One young novice filmmaker, famous in another venue, apparently caused quite a scene yesterday at a photo shoot before his movie debuted. The magazine almost scrubbed the entire project. And so it begins!