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Blake's Former Lawyer Fined

A judge sanctions Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., who now represents Michael Jackson, for unprofessional conduct.

June 12, 2004|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Michael Jackson's lawyer was fined $18,950 Friday for "unprofessional conduct" that included insulting his opponent during a jailhouse deposition of actor Robert Blake last year.

Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., whose own celebrity status has soared since he signed on to represent Jackson in his child molestation case in April, was then defending Blake against criminal charges that he solicited two former stuntmen to kill his wife, and when they refused, he pulled the trigger himself.

The former star of the 1970s television series "Baretta" also faces a separate wrongful-death civil suit filed by wife Bonny Lee Bakley's four children -- including the 2-year-old daughter Blake fathered.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David M. Schacter sanctioned Mesereau in the civil case Friday for "thwarting the purposes of discovery and for his unprofessional conduct" at Blake's Jan. 15, 2003, deposition.

"Mr. Mesereau's conduct may be acceptable for the theatrical television presentations of law, but it is not acceptable for real judicial proceedings," Schacter said in his two-page ruling.

The judge ordered Mesereau to pay Eric Dubin, the attorney for the Bakley children, for his preparation and deposition costs.

"Mr. Mesereau's conduct made the deposition and all the preparations for the deposition a nullity," Schacter wrote.

Dubin had asked the court for $28,250 in sanctions. He said he plans to depose Blake again after the criminal trial has concluded.

Mesereau declined to comment. But his law partner, Susan C. Yu, said that she would appeal, and planned to file a motion for sanctions against Dubin. She said the fine was "grossly excessive."

During the hearing, Mesereau apologized to the court for his conduct, then accused Dubin of calling him names as well.

Dubin defended himself on the courthouse steps, saying he did not initiate any of the insults, but was merely trying to defend himself against Mesereau's personal attacks. "I'm extremely confident that I crossed no ethical lines," he said. "It's not my job to be a punching bag for Mr. Mesereau."

The 17-minute deposition was held inside the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, where Blake was held for 11 months after his April 18, 2002, arrest in Hidden Hills. He posted a $1.5-million bond and was released in March 2003.

During the deposition, Mesereau demanded that the 70-year-old actor not answer any questions and threatened to quit if he did so, according to a transcript.

The lawyer also repeatedly interrupted Dubin -- calling him "a clown" and referring to the court-ordered proceedings as a "clown show."

Dubin had asked the judge to stop all proceedings in the civil case, including Blake's deposition, until the criminal trial was completed.

But Blake's civil lawyers had demanded the proceedings go forward -- even against the advice of criminal lawyers, including Mesereau.

The civil case has since been put on hold until a criminal verdict is rendered.

Schacter said Friday that Mesereau had other options for protecting his client's rights.

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