Norristown (United States) (AFP) – Tom Mesereau is a Hollywood lawyer to the stars who got Michael Jackson acquitted of child molesting. The question is, can he do the same for Bill Cosby at the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era?
Instantly recognizable by his striking helmet of white hair, the 67-year-old is tall and stocky — yet remarkably sedate, even ponderous in court.
Quiet and cerebral, Mesereau shuns the theatrics of many a showman lawyer, spending much of Cosby’s sexual assault retrial silent, sitting erect in his chair, until he steps purposefully behind the lecturn.
There his hardball tactics, forensic cross-examination and attempts at character assassination against Cosby accusers send shivers down the spine of supporters of victims of sexual assault.
One witness for the prosecution called him “sleazy” and his tactics “repugnant,” yet even Cosby’s detractors admit Mesereau is doing the best he can for an actor slayed in the court of public opinion.
An acquittal for “America’s Dad,” publicly accused by 60 women of sexual misconduct, would cement Mesereau’s reputation as the attorney celebrities call when their back is against the wall.
Friends underscore his integrity, or his decades of free legal aid for poor African Americans and those facing the death penalty as evidence of his commitment to justice.
“His cross-examination skills are unmatched by anybody,” says Charles Salvagio, a criminal defense attorney who has worked on pro-bono cases with Mesereau in Alabama since 1998, and considers him a close friend.
“He leads you down a path and you’re not even realizing where he’s leading you to and then all of a sudden he’ll bang you with something.”
– ‘Extraordinary’ –
Mesereau’s opening statement was an electric, rhetoric-laden attack on Andrea Constand, the woman Cosby is accused of drugging and assaulting 14 years ago.
He called her a liar blinded by greed, playing with the emotions of a lonely, grieving father to hoodwink him out of a $3.4 million settlement as a way out of financial problems.
“A con artist, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. And we’ll prove it,” he hectored. “She’s now a multi-millionaire because she pulled it off.”
It is a radically different defense than that pursued at Cosby’s first trial by Philadelphia lawyer Brian McMonagle, who called one witness.
Mesereau tore into Cosby accusers Janice Baker-Kinney and Janice Dickinson.
If barred from admitting testimony about what he called Constand’s “extensive” use of magic mushrooms and marijuana, it was not without a backhanded compliment from Judge Steven O’Neill.
“I understand that you are an extraordinary advocate,” O’Neill said.
But Mesereau’s tough approach has not always dealt a killer punch.
“Are you rolling your eyes at me?” Baker-Kinney shot back, refusing to budge an inch. “You’re kind of turning my words around,” she said.
Born in West Point, New York, the son of a World War II lieutenant colonel, Mesereau was educated at Harvard, the London School of Economics and the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.
A one-time speechwriter for a US congressman, he worked as a state prosecutor in southern California before entering private practice.
– ‘Wait and see’ –
His record speaks for itself.
Mesereau is best known for acquitting the late Jackson in 2005 on all 14 charges of child molestation after a four-month trial, despite the star’s own admission that he liked sharing his bed with children.
In May, he got a black client acquitted of murdering a white Iraq War veteran in Alabama, a racially-charged case whose outcome drew condemnation from the Ku Klux Klan.
Mike Tyson is another one of his celebrity clients, and Mesereau managed to get sexual assault charges against the boxer dropped.
“I don’t know anybody with more integrity,” Salvagio told AFP, saying Mesereau has “never charged a dime” on cases for the poor in Alabama.
Dressed impeccably each day in a navy suit, white shirt and tie, Mesereau has kept his distance from the press, shunning the microphone and giving his largely female defense team chances to shine.
Yet in a case with no physical evidence, Mesereau’s cross-examination of Constand may prove most crucial, and under his sustained barrage, she squirmed in her seat, conceding inconsistency after inconsistency.
“Mr Mesereau is doing the best he can under the circumstances,” said lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents many Cosby accusers and who Mesereau has repeatedly claimed wants to secure money on their behalf.
“We’ll have to wait and see what the jury decides.”