The murder trial of Robert Blake was postponed indefinitely after a judge relieved the actor’s third defense lawyer because of “irreconcilable differences” between the attorney and his client.
The case had been scheduled to enter the final phase of jury selection later this month, but prosecutors said they will now have to start the process from scratch.
“I’m sorry,” Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp said Thursday after stunning the courtroom with her announcement. “I just did not have a choice in the matter.”
She spent nearly an hour in her chambers with Blake and attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. before announcing her decision. As they left court, neither Blake nor Mesereau would discuss the nature of the dispute which ended their relationship after some 14 months.
Schempp set a hearing for Feb. 23, by which time she said she hoped Blake would have a new lawyer.
“I’m very, very sorry, that Mr. Mesereau left,” Blake said outside court. “I am deeply, deeply grateful to him for saving my life.”
Sources close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was Mesereau’s decision to leave the case, and that Blake wanted him to remain. It was Mesereau who won Blake’s release on $1.5 million bail after many months in jail.
District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said prosecutors were taken by surprise.
“We’re a little shell-shocked right now,” she said.
Blake, 70, is charged with shooting his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, to death as she sat in a car outside Vitello’s Italian restaurant in Studio City, where the two had just had dinner in 2001. Bakley was the mother of Blake’s daughter, Rosie, who was born in 2000.
Mesereau’s former co-counsel, Dana Cole, said he had been speaking to Blake about the dispute.
“Tom wanted to be the captain of the ship and Blake was trying to do the case by committee, consulting lawyers who never tried a case,” Cole said. “He was forcing Tom to consume time over unimportant things.”
Mesereau is the third lawyer to leave Blake’s defense. His original lawyer, Harland Braun, left in November 2002, followed by attorney Jennifer Keller in January 2003.