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Spotlight gets brighter on Geragos

Peterson attorney gains more attention with Jackson case

For years, Mark Geragos toiled in the legal trenches for little-known clients. Then Geragos took the case of Whitewater scandal figure Susan McDougal, and he quickly ascended into the national spotlight.

THE CASES JUST kept on coming: Winona Ryder, Gary Condit, Scott Peterson and now, Michael Jackson, have transformed him into a legal superstar. And he is representing Jackson and Peterson at the same time in two of the nation’s most sensational cases.

“With Michael Jackson, he has been launched into the stratosphere,” said Loyola University Law School professor Laurie Levenson.

On the day he became Jackson’s lawyer in his child-molestation case, Geragos was in Modesto, finishing the final round of a preliminary hearing in which Peterson was ordered to stand trial for the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

“I was cross-examining the last witness when my pager went off and it was a call from Neverland saying that search warrants were being executed,” Geragos said Friday.

Within minutes of the public announcement that he would handle Jackson’s case, Geragos’ pager began buzzing. In 24 hours, he received 700 pages - most of them from the media.

“This is really no different from what I usually do,” he said. “I’m always juggling cases. The only difference is the media factor.”

Geragos was returning a call to The Associated Press on his cell phone Friday, pausing in mid-sentence to go through a metal detector at the downtown Los Angeles Superior Court, on his way to handle a murder case that will receive little or no attention.

“This is what I do,” he said, sounding unperturbed at the sudden change in his circumstances. One day on a private jet with Jackson in Santa Barbara. The next day trying a garden variety case in Los Angeles.


Geragos, with his dark hair, mustache and ready smile, has become a familiar presence on TV talk shows, offering pithy comments on other lawyers’ cases as well as his own.

Asked whether Geragos is really up to handling the Peterson and Jackson cases at the same time, Levenson said it shouldn’t be a problem.

“It’s a bit like brain surgery,” she said. “Brain surgeons have more than one patient but they’re not operating on them at the same time.”

Geragos, a 46-year-old graduate of Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles, has a wife and two children. He is a racehorse enthusiast and has owned a share of a horse. He runs and lifts weights to keep in shape for his rigorous schedule.

Before the public spotlight moved his way, he was the managing partner of Geragos & Geragos, the firm founded by his father, Paul Geragos, a well-respected Los Angeles lawyer. The family is of Armenian descent and when Armenian-Americans got into trouble, they would take their case to the Geragos firm.

That is still the case. Days before the Peterson preliminary hearing, Mark Geragos wound up a murder trial involving Armenian-American defendants.

“It’s been a meteoric rise without question,” said attorney Dana Cole, who has tried cases with Geragos over the past 10 years. “You have to trace it to Susan McDougal. He did an incredible job for her.”


McDougal’s ties to former President Clinton and the Whitewater investigation were well known by the time Geragos met her. She had spent 22 months in seven different jails for refusing to testify against Bill and Hillary Clinton. In Los Angeles, she was being tried by the district attorney on charges of stealing money from Nancy Mehta, the wife of famed conductor Zubin Mehta, who hired her as an assistant.

Geragos won her release from jail and her acquittal in a highly publicized trial and then represented her in Little Rock, Ark., on a new round of federal charges. He won again.

“He took on Susan McDougal when it looked like a loser,” said attorney Harland Braun, who himself has represented celebrities such as actor Robert Blake in his murder case. “Now he has taken on two cases that were being called losers in the media. But that doesn’t matter if you can get the jury to focus on the evidence.”

Levenson, who watched him work in the McDougal and Ryder cases said, “He’s much more experienced than people think he is. And he can be very tenacious and aggressive in the courtroom and out. He sees himself as a fighter.”

Last year, he represented Ryder on charges of shoplifting from the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue and Condit, the former congressman, who was under a shadow of suspicion when he was romantically linked to Washington intern Chandra Levy, who disappeared in May 2001.

Beyond his public persona, Cole described Geragos as “personable, capable, charming, a low-key type of guy.”

“Mark is a very hard-working, tough lawyer,” said Braun, one of Geragos’ closest friends. “And he’s very optimistic. He has a certain buoyancy and optimism that gives you confidence in him.”

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