SENTINEL 9-1-2011
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Judging Jackson's Jury

Criminal courts and the color of black & white

The Firpo Files

September 1, 2011

Part 3 of 4

(Sentinel Sept 15-21, 2011)

Jury selection for the involuntary manslaughter trial of Conrad Murray, Michael Joseph Jackson's physician, began last week, and the judge wasted no time in laying down the law.

Restrictions: Prospective jurors are not allowed to discuss proceedings with anyone, including religious leaders or therapists. OTRC ( reports that the judge "said they are not allowed to read, listen or watch material about the case or write or talk about it online or via ‘telepathic communication,' which drew some chuckles."

"I don't want you to put your computer down, turn your phone off and cut communication with people," cautioned the judge. "I just want you to adjust your conduct, insulate yourself when it comes to this case."

Neither can witnesses talk about Michael's 2005 child molestation trial. Those barred from acting as witnesses are Michael's dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein; Grace Rwaramba, the former Nanny; former bodyguard Chris Carter; and a detective tied to the 2005 trial.

Allowances: Among those allowed to testify is Michael's former makeup artist Karen Faye; physicians David Adams and Allen Metzger; as well as Michael's former nurse, Cherylin Lee. What will certainly be unsettling for most jurors are Michael's autopsy photos, which the judge is permitting to be introduced during the trial.  

The Interview: I ended last week's article with one word: "Deep." This week's interview with Tom Mesereau, who successfully defended Michael during the 2005 trial, indicates clearly the inadequacy of this single-word response. Mr. Mesereau humbly takes insightful lawyering to refreshingly new heights.

Carr: Let's start with a bang. What about potentially racist jurors during Michael's trial?

Mesereau:  I firmly believe that racial prejudice must be immediately addressed and presented in a manner that empowers jurors to rise about it. The trials in which I have had to address the issue have principally involved potential prejudice among whites toward blacks.

Carr: How did you address it?

Mesereau: Can I show you something?

Carr: Sure.

(Note: Leaving me in the conference room, he retreats into his office and returns with an article he wrote. Instead of re-articulating his points, he presents the list to me.)

Mesereau:  Shall I innumerate these eight points for you?

Carr: Rock the mike Mez.

Mesereau:  (1) Racial prejudice exists at every level of our criminal justice system. No judge, jury, prosecutor, defense lawyer or witness is immune.  

(2) All of us are raised with prejudice. Anyone who denies this fact is potentially more dangerous than the avowed racists who admit their bias.

(3) African-Americans are raised with a strong concern and sensitivity to race. They are more open to "racist conspiracies" than whites.

(4) White people, generally, do anything to avoid confronting racial issues. They automatically hope and assume that racial prejudice is absent, particularly when confronting criminal justice. But they want to be fair.

(5) African Americans continually refer to themselves as "the Black community." This sense of community is necessary for any oppressed minority to fight for freedom and dignity.

(6) White Americans rarely see themselves as a "White community." White people generally have not had to worry about such communal protection.

(7) All human beings have a natural tendency to devalue others whom they perceive as different.

(8) Racism exists on both a conscious and subconscious level. People are often unaware of their racism.

Carr: Impressive. Rarely have I heard such brutal honesty so eloquently articulated. Needless to say, you're absolutely right about the pervasiveness of racism in the judicial system.

In my January 20, 2011, column I wrote about how Black judges view the legal system through a prism notably different from their White counterparts; and how White racism and discrimination have compelled the existence of Black lawyer and Black police officer associations.

Now, connect, if you will, the essence of your eight points to the process of jury selection.

Mesereau:  A lawyer's passion and sincerity must proceed with an obvious respect for the jury's sensibilities, and there are specific steps that should be taken if racial prejudice is detected among the jurors. Shall I elaborate?

Carr: Talk to me Tommy.

Mesereau:  If it appears obvious that the panel could contain prejudiced jurors, a lawyer's concern must be handled immediately during jury selection. It may involve little more than expressing one's honest fear that prejudice could play a role. Jurors should be questioned in a respectful, conversational tone about their thoughts on the issue. Their responses will lead to sensitive, follow-up questions and inquiries. No tricks please!

Next week, Part 4!