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Spectacle Supplants Law as Focus of Jackson Trial

Celebrity cases become surefire crowd pleasers thanks to the global reach of modern media.

June 13, 2005|Shawn Hubler | Times Staff Writer

* The fans: Simpson had his demonstrators outside the courthouse. Former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss had the occasional Heidi girls in their "Heidi Ho" hats. Bryant had a guy who came out of the woodwork offering to kill the young woman who accused him of rape.

Jackson has blown them all out of the water. Fans have come from all parts of the globe, some for weeks, some for months. A Los Angeles kindergarten teacher quit her job so she could demonstrate her support for him full time. On the day of his arraignment in January, about 1,500 cheered as he danced on the roof of his SUV.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 25, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Jackson trial -- An article in Section A on June 13 about spectacle supplanting legal issues at Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial reported that the singer climbed atop an SUV in January after his arraignment. The SUV rooftop incident and arraignment were in 2004.

His fans have heckled reporters whom they view as tools of the prosecution, an act of loyalty matched by few other celebrity supporters. Court TV's Diane Dimond was besieged to the point that she got a restraining order and hired security.

* The spin: Gabler believes Jackson has intentionally sought to turn the trial into a circus so the jury will see it as he does: a kangaroo court set up by a district attorney with a vendetta.

But Judy Leon, senior vice president of DecisionQuest, a Los Angeles-based litigation research and strategic communications firm, says it's "a mess" compared with, say, Stewart's public relations, which was so forward-thinking that she's making house arrest seem like "a good thing."

* The deeper meaning: Simpson's trial spoke to race and sex and class and police corruption. Fleiss' spoke to selective enforcement in prostitution cases and to baby boomers' fears about what had become of the children they'd raised. After the Lindbergh trial, kidnapping was made a federal offense carrying the death penalty and cameras were banned from courtrooms for decades.

The Jackson case?

"Pure celebrity."

That's from Charles Lindner, a past president of the Los Angeles Criminal Bar Assn. who co-wrote the closing arguments for the defense in the Simpson trial and who compared the trial to those paintings of dogs playing poker.

"As much as I like Michael's music," he said, "this trial doesn't captivate me."

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