In all the MJ hoopla, it would be a crime to overlook those JDs who kept the King of Pop out of trouble—and in some cases—out of prison. “Two child-molestation investigations (no convictions), two divorces, myriad civil lawsuits over concerts, special performances and soured business deals, near-bankruptcy and the threatened foreclosure of his Neverland ranch kept teams of lawyers busy.” [CNN]
Plus, the possibly that Michael didn’t leave behind a will is enough to ensure many embittered legal battles are left to ensue. While family-appointed Dewey & LeBouef attorney L. Londell McMillan (NYU School of Law ‘90) has a lot on his plate as he closes the final posthumous chapter of the MJ legacy, many legal greats precede him from during the icon’s lifetime.
Unfortunately, nailing down who did (and did not) represent Jackson isn’t easy. Over the years, he hired and fired enough lawyers to staff a medium-sized law firm. So consider this Michael Jackson’s greatest legal hits.
1. John Branca
• Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf LLP
• UCLA School of Law ‘75
Fast Fact: At Branca’s first wedding, Michael Jackson was Best Man. (Little Richard served as the minister.) [Wikipedia]
Pop Practice: Thriller deal; Acquired rights to ATV Music, and The Beatles publishing.
“Branca had a surprise for Jackson. The attorney said casually, ‘By the way, the ATV catalogue is available.’ Jackson looked puzzled. Branca added teasingly, ‘It includes a few things you might be interested in.’ ‘Like what?’ Jackson asked. ‘Northern Songs,’ Branca replied. Jackson recognized that name. ‘You mean the Northern Songs?’ ‘Yeah, Mike . . . the Beatles.’ Jackson did a full turn, jumped in the air and shrieked. ‘But wait,’ Branca warned. ‘Other people are also after the catalogue. It’s going to be a struggle.’ Jackson replied, ‘I don’t care. I want it . . . please.’” [Los Angeles Times]
2. Allen Grubman
• Grubman Indursky & Shire, P.C.
• Brooklyn Law School ‘67
Fast Fact: Father of infamous car-crasher Lizzie Grubman. [New York Daily News]
L. Lee Phillips
• Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
• Cornell Law School ‘59
Pop Practice: All three took over after Branca. Grubman negotiated Michael Jackson’s estimated $30 million deal with Sony Music. Fields also represented Jackson during contract talks with Sony Music in the early 1990s, as well as during the 1993 child molestation allegations made against Jackson in 1993.
“Michael replaced John Branca with three specialist attorneys: Allen Grubman (to handle negotiations with his record company), Lee Phillips (music publishing), and Bertram Fields (litigation).” [Michael Jackson the Solo Years, page 93]
3. Mark Geragos
• Geragos & Garagos
• Loyola Marymount Law School ‘82
Fast Fact: In the early stages of the Michael Jackson molestation case, Geragos handled that case as well as Scott Peterson’s death penalty case simultaneously.
• Brafman Associates
• Ohio Northern Law School ‘74/NYU School of Law L.LM ‘79
Fast Fact: “A self-described ‘short Jewish guy’ who slept through yeshiva and did stand-up in the Catskills.” [New York Magazine]
Pop Practice: Briefly represented Jackson in 2004 child molestation case, replaced by Jackson on April 26, 2004 with Thomas Mesereau.
“‘Mark Geragos and I are stepping down—or as the Jackson camp is suggesting, being replaced. The fact is, this point was coming to a head over a number of complicated legal and practical issues that it would be inappropriate to discuss at this time.’” [The New York Times]
4. Thomas Mesereau
• Mesereau & Yu
• University of California Hastings College of Law ‘79
Fast Fact: Named one of Barbara Walters “Ten Most Fascinating People” after representing and freeing actor Robert Blake, who was charged with murdering his wife. [CTV]
Pop Practice: Secured an acquittal for Jackson in his 2005 child molestation case.
Jackson’s Speech after the acquittal and Mesereau on Leno: (CONTINUED BELOW)
5. Brian Oxman
• Oxman & Jaroscak
• Loyola Marymont Law School ‘76
Fast Fact: An Assistant Professor of Law at Irvine University College of Law—not to be confused with UC Irvine School of Law. [IrvineUniversity.edu]
Pop Practice: Fired by Mesereau from child molestation case.
“Oxman had come to the case as Randy Jackson’s lawyer from previous domestic skirmishes within the Jackson family. But he had no experience in criminal defense matters, and often slept through crucial sessions in Jackson’s child molestation case.” [Fox News]
“Michael Jackson hasn’t been dead three hours and Brian Oxman is on TV everywhere being identified as the attorney for the singer or his family. He is not. Brian Oxman was fired by Thomas Mesereau from Michael’s trial in 2005. I was there. He has no knowledge of Michael’s life for the last several years. Oxman sued Jackson looking for legal fees, and lost.” [Hollywood Reporter]
6. Joel Katz
• Greenberg Traurig, LLP
• University of Tennessee College of Law ‘69
Fast Fact: Before representing the King of Pop, the first client at his one-man law firm was Godfather of Soul James Brown. [UTK.edu]
Pop Practice: Entertainment attorney at the time of Jackson’s death.
“In a statement Friday, Joel Katz, Jackson’s entertainment affairs attorney, gave no clues to how Jackson disposed of his estate. ‘Michael Jackson was a perfectionist, and his business affairs are worldwide,’ Katz said. ‘Many of them are quite ongoing and will be dealt with appropriately.’” [Associated Press]
7. Bob Sanger
• Sanger & Swysen
• UCLA School of Law ‘73
Fast Fact: Often talked with Jackson about psychology, Freud and Jung, Hawthorne, sociology, black history and sociology dealing with race issues. [Los Angeles Times]
Pop Practice: Local counsel in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“Sanger represented Michael Jackson for 16 years, and sat at the table with Jackson throughout the high-profile 2005 case in which the family of a boy accused Jackson of child sexual abuse. We spoke with Sanger late this afternoon: ‘What I did learn in the years that I represented him—particularly in that last case—is that he is a very kind person. Truly from his heart.’” [LA Weekly]
8. Peter Lopez
• Kleinberg Lopez Lange Cuddy & Klein LLP
• UCLA School of Law ‘74
Fast Fact: Married to Catherine Bach, the actress best known for playing Daisy Duke in the television series Dukes of Hazzard.
Pop Practice: Key transactional advisor late in life.
“Increasingly, Jackson’s inner circle is shrinking down to a core group of key advisers. Mindful of having taken bad advice in the past, he now relies on the select counsel of a handful of eminences grises. One of them is the suave Peter Lopez, a highly-regarded entertainment lawyer with excellent Hollywood credentials. ‘Michael is very excited to be moving forward.’ Lopez also insists that talk of a financial crisis is ‘hogwash.’ ‘Neverland is not being auctioned off, it’s simply that Michael has changed lenders.’” [The Guardian]
Pop Practice: Represented Jackson in 1993 when the singer was accused of child molestation. No criminal charges filed.
“Johnnie Cochran Jr. was mourned Wednesday by O.J. Simpson, Elmer ‘Geronimo’ Pratt, Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs and other celebrated clients, but he was also remembered as an attorney who sought justice for ordinary people and described as the Thurgood Marshall of his era. Famous defendants including Michael Jackson sat with Cochran colleagues and legal adversaries among thousands who filled West Angeles Cathedral for the lawyer’s funeral.” [The Union-Tribune]
10. Lance Spiegel
• Kaufman, Young, Spiegel, Robinson & Kenerson, LLP
• USC Law School ‘72
Pop Practice: Handled Jackson’s child custody affairs.
“Debbie Rowe is poised to take full custody of the two children she bore for Michael Jackson. It has been widely reported Debbie Rowe gave up her parental rights to Paris and Michael Jr. That is not true. We spoke with Lance Spiegel, the lawyer who repped Jackson at the time. Spiegel says under the law, the Department of Children and Family Services must conduct a parental fitness investigation before parental rights are terminated and that didn’t happen with Rowe.” [TMZ]