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Blake Hires 2 New Attorneys

One is a former public defender, the other an ex-prosecutor, both in Orange County. Actor is charged in wife's slaying.

November 27, 2002|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Robert Blake retained two new criminal defense attorneys with Orange County ties Tuesday to replace Harland W. Braun, who quit the high-profile murder case because of "a serious breakdown in the attorney-client relationship."

Braun, who had represented the 69-year-old actor in the courtroom and media since Blake's wife was shot to death in May 2001, disagrees with his former client over the actor's insistence on defending himself in the media against the charges.

Blake's new attorneys, former Orange County prosecutor Thomas Arthur Mesereau Jr. and Irvine criminal defense specialist Jennifer Lynn Keller, declined to comment after court Tuesday in Van Nuys on whether they would allow Blake to be interviewed.

The actor was charged in April with fatally shooting his 44-year-old wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, as she sat in his car near a Studio City restaurant. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of soliciting murder.

Before approving the substitution of attorneys, Superior Court Judge Lloyd M. Nash asked Blake if he were willing to spend more time in jail before the preliminary hearing.

The judge has said he would reconsider setting bail for Blake after hearing the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. Blake has been held without bail since his April 18 arrest.

"I have no choice, your honor. Yes, you're right, I have been there a long time, and I have to take responsibility for some of the reasons," Blake said. "It's seven months later, and I'm still sitting in a concrete box."

Braun, who had defended Blake in the media since the night Bakley was killed, announced his intention to quit the case last month after he said his client had scheduled a televised jailhouse interview with ABC News correspondent Diane Sawyer without the lawyer's knowledge. The interview was later canceled after Sheriff Lee Baca refused to lift a ban on cameras in county jails.

Nash set a Dec. 6 hearing to determine how long the new attorneys would need to prepare for the preliminary hearing, expected to be held early next year.

Blake's longtime entertainment lawyer, Barry Felsen, said he learned about Mesereau through Charles Meyer, his partner in the Century City law firm of Goldman & Kagon. At First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, Meyer and Mesereau provide free legal services to the poor.

In the Blake case, Mesereau, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Collins, Mesereau & Reddock, teams up again with Keller, an Irvine sole practitioner and his friend since the 1970s, when they attended Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco together.

Mesereau represented Mike Tyson last year in a case in which San Bernardino prosecutors declined to file rape charges against the boxer. The attorney also defended former Compton Councilwoman Patricia Moore, who was sentenced in May 1997 to 33 months in federal prison for extortion and income tax fraud.

The law firm's Web site says Mesereau, 52, specializes in criminal defense and business litigation, volunteers at free legal clinics and "works with community organizations to fight against such civil injustices as the California three-strikes law." He also volunteers with the American Bar Assn.'s Death Penalty Representation Project.

In addition to Blake, Keller is representing Gerald John Plesetz, who is charged with sexually abusing a girl who allegedly gave birth to his child almost 30 years ago, when he was pastor at St. Edward Catholic Church in Dana Point.

Before launching her own practice, Keller, who is 49, was a senior research attorney for Justice Edward Wallin of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, then joined the Orange County public defender's office.

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