The Effect of Celebrity on Jury Trials

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This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Jan. 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.




JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Michael Jackson (search) joins a proud tradition of celebrity defendants in this country. In some way, the general public's opinion is as important as the jury's.

Here to talk about the effect of fame on jury trials, Mike DeMarco (search), a former state prosecutor in Boston, now a partner with Kirkpatrick and Lockhart. The big question — how can defendants take advantage of their celebrity, such as Michael Jackson, of course?

MIKE DEMARCO, TRIAL LAWYER, KIRKPATRICK AND LOCKHART: Well, they can take advantage of their celebrity in many, many ways. Obviously, today with technology and television, the fact that someone could establish their own Web site and get their story out in a way that will at least get it out in front of the public in the hopes that they will have some force on the biases and prejudices of individuals who may very well be sitting on the jury.

GIBSON: Doesn't it work the other way just as often? People resent celebrities thinking they can get away with everything and they're more likely to get convicted than found innocent?

DEMARCO: There is resentment. You know, they're celebrities. By definition, they're celebrities because they're popular. And Michael Jackson, for example, is a pop culture icon so to speak, and he is the kind of person ...

GIBSON: This case is ultimately going to come down to him saying, “I did not do it” and some little boy saying, “he did do it.” So in that situation, when you have this kind of celebrity — he is looking like he is acting a lot more forceful today than he has in the past, by the way, instead of that dainty little flower who said, oh, I'm happy to go in and please don't hurt me or dislocate my shoulder. He seems to be telling a lot of people what to do today. But how does a one-on-one, his word verses his word, does a celebrity help?

DEMARCO: It is really not a he said-he said situation, quite frankly. I believe that there will be — as a trial lawyer, you have to understand that there will be all sorts of evidence, direct, and indirect and circumstantial evidence. There is that history of the other situation that came up where he paid a significant sum of money ...

GIBSON: $20 million.

DEMARCO: $20 million to release himself from civil liability. And they couldn't, I understand as the law works out there, they couldn't indict him or charge him with a crime at that time.

GIBSON: They couldn't force the testimony of the other victim.

DEMARCO: That's right. In this case, of course, this victim apparently is willing to come forward, is willing to speak. But this victim is a youngster. Obviously, parents are involved, others are involved. Police ...

GIBSON: But if you are Michael Jackson, do you think, “Hey, if O.J. can do it, I can do it. I've got the money. I can hire the best lawyers. I can make myself sympathetic to an African-American jury if I can get one. I can defy the odds just like O.J. did?”

DEMARCO: I don't think it's quite like the cookie-cutter situation that you suggest. It is an interesting theory, but all trials are unique unto themselves. You have a different judge. You have a different location or whatever location it's going to be. But the circumstances are going to be different. And certainly the people who are chosen to sit in that jury are going to be far different from the ones that sat in the O.J. case.

GIBSON: You mean if it is in Santa Maria?

DEMARCO: Well, people are different. They may all live in the same area, but they are going to come into that courtroom with O.J. as a part of our history in American jurisprudence. I don't think OJ can be duplicated, quite frankly.

GIBSON: Do you think the American — the people of California were embarrassed about OJ and that any jury in California, it would be embarrassed to do that again?

DEMARCO: I think the O.J. trial, it was so controversial, the verdict in the OJ trial was so controversial, right, wrong, or indifferent, the jury spoke, he was acquitted. That was our system of justice. But it was so controversial at the time, that I think everybody in the back of their minds is going to thinking about O.J. and how this affects ...

GIBSON: all right. You know him so you can answer the question. Michael Jackson is a very good friend of Johnnie Cochran. Johnnie Cochran has recommended Michael Jackson before. Why isn't Johnnie Cochran on this case?

DEMARCO: That is a great question. You know, I could make all sorts of guesswork and speculation.

GIBSON: But is it a bad idea?

DEMARCO: Quite frankly, I think Johnnie Cochran, no question, is one of the finest trial lawyers in this country, has taken his career in a different direction. I think he is very, very busy now, he is involved in commercial litigation. He is involved with big-stakes litigation.

GIBSON: Boring stuff.

DEMARCO: Well, but money-making stuff. And I think there comes a point in one's career where you have to think about your retirement and yourself. And he didn't get the call. Obviously, Mark Geragos is high on everybody's list right now.

GIBSON: I bet he did get the call.

DEMARCO: If he did, he ain't talking about it.

GIBSON: Mike DeMarco, now a partner with Kirkpatrick and Lockhart. Mike, thanks very much.

DEMARCO: Thank you.

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