Jan. 19, 2004 -- Although Michael Jackson has admitted repeatedly that young men have spent the night in his bedroom, the sleepovers were not sexual, and the pop star has done nothing illegal, defense attorney Mark Geragos told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
"There's nothing sexual going on," Geragos told ABCNEWS senior legal correspondent Cynthia McFadden in an exclusive interview. "You may not like it. I may not like it, but it is not illegal."
Geragos gave the interview before a judge placed a gag order on prosecutors and defense attorneys at Jackson's arraignment hearing on Friday. Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent to a child under 14. Santa Barbara County, Calif., prosecutors allege Jackson molested a 12-year-old boy who spent time at his Neverland Ranch.
Jackson, who was first accused of child molestation in 1993 but never charged, has raised eyebrows by repeatedly saying in interviews — first in a British documentary, Living With Michael Jackson, and then in an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes last month — that he has allowed other people's children to sleep in his bed at Neverland Ranch.
But Jackson has never said that he spends the night in the same bedroom as the children, Geragos said.
'Not a Freak'
Despite his client's eccentricities and bizarre appearance, Geragos said he does not consider Jackson a "freak" and he is not concerned about how the pop star's image might affect the criminal case against him. As of Friday, Geragos is sharing lead counsel duties with Benjamin Brafman, a Manhattan attorney best known for winning an acquittal for Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who faced bribery and weapons charges in 2001.
Geragos spends a couple of hours with Jackson every other day.
"I have sat and talked with him," Geragos said. "He's not a freak in any sense of the word. All I can tell you is that a day does not go by that I do not get inundated at my office with e-mails, letters of support, from people who think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread." Those who perceive Jackson as being childish and child-like in terms of his business affairs and career are, again, incorrect, Geragos said.
"Michael is extremely strong. He's extremely shrewd," he said. "He's a dynamite businessman."
Geragos told McFadden he does not see anything wrong with parents letting their children spend the night at other people's houses. He has allowed it with his own children.
"My children spend the night at other 45-year-old men's houses — a single male who's roughly my age, who's got a son, and my son spends the night at his house," Geragos said.
Geragos belittled the notion that Jackson has sleepovers to lure children into his bedroom.
"This idea that somehow he's luring kids into sleep into his bedroom and some kind of seductive dance — if it wasn't so absolutely defamatory, it would be laughable," Geragos said.
Jackson reportedly paid $20 million a decade ago to settle sexual molestation allegations leveled by a child and his family. Yet he still allows children to visit his bedroom at Neverland. Asked if such behavior displayed a lack of good judgment, Geragos waved aside the question.
"Well, I suppose that's when you would want that gendarme at the door to keep people out?" Geragos said. "Is that what you're saying? And he should not have kids there?"
It is not about Jackson's judgment, but other people's attitudes, he said.
"I think its shows an astonishing cynicism on the part of most people," Geragos said. Members of the public, he said, immediately leap to the conclusion that sexual acts are involved or that Jackson sleeps in the same room as his guests whenever they hear the star talk about sleepovers or sharing his bed with children.
But those assumptions are false, Geragos said. "They're not invited to spend the night in his bedroom," Geragos said. "He has a specific area where guests stay …The reason this kind of [thing] comes up is that people assume that he comes up there and spends the night in the bedroom. He's never said that to anybody."
The reason Jackson's comments have stirred such outrage is that he is misunderstood, Geragos said. The music legend grew up in a large household where intimacy and sharing a bed were not frowned upon.
"It's part of the mind-set," Geragos said. "His [Jackson's] mind — when you talk to him — this is a boy who, when he was a young boy, grew up in a large family, in a small house. And in that small house in Gary, Indiana, they shared a bed, and people — relatives — would come over. And that's how he grew up."
Nation of Islam Influence?
Recently, much has been made of the fact that the Nation of Islam has been playing a role in Jackson's affairs, but Geragos said that the controversial group's level of involvement has been exaggerated. Leonard F. Muhammad, identified on the Nation of Islam's Web site as its chief of staff, was present at one of Jackson's press conferences.
But he was one of about 25 people standing behind Geragos and Jackson at the event.
"He has a number of people that he seeks advice from that have been around him for years," Geragos said. "One of those people is Leonard Mohammed, who is somebody that he feels close to. All of a sudden, it became one of these urban legends, the Nation of Islam had taken over my law office."
Mohammed has been to Geragos' office "probably three times," and does not have an office there, nor is the Nation of Islam handling the pop star's affairs. "There's only one person in charge of Michael Jackson's affairs, and that's Michael Jackson," Geragos said.
The Peterson Factor?
Another issue brought up about Geragos is that he is representing Jackson at the same time as he is handling the case of Scott Peterson, who faces murder charges in the death of his wife, Laci. Thus far, he has not had a problem juggling the two cases, Geragos said.
"If I thought for a minute, or if I ever do think, there comes a point where I think that I can't, I would step aside in a heartbeat or I'd tell the client that there's a problem," he said.
Prosecutors have tried to "spin" the Jackson case for the public by holding press conferences, but Geragos said that that he only started holding his own press conferences to defend Jackson against prosecutors.
"I wasn't the one who was out there first, holding press conferences," Geragos said. "I was perfectly willing to wait until we got into a courtroom. But, I'm not letting my clients be piñatas. They're not going to have prosecutors just take whacks at them."
He also questioned why the family accusing Jackson went to attorney Larry Feldman before going to the authorities. Feldman is the lawyer who negotiated a settlement against Jackson in the previous molestation case.
"The person who first kind of forced these allegations upon the authorities was a civil lawyer, what I call a money lawyer," Geragos said. "I think it'll come out in court that they went to Larry Feldman and I've said that if this was not about money, why, out of 175,000 active lawyers in California, does this family find themselves in the office of the one person who's shaken down my client previously for money? If it was my son and my son was really molested, I don't go to a money lawyer. I go to the police."
Feldman told ABCNEWS that he would not characterize the allegations against Jackson as a shakedown, and that he has no plans to represent the family after the criminal case is over. Back in 1993, Jackson reached a financial settlement with the boy's family —reportedly for millions of dollars — because he did not want a drawn-out legal battle. The boy did not testify and prosecutors did not bring criminal charges against Jackson.
Unlike what happened in 1993, there will be no settlement over these allegations, Geragos said. For one thing, that was a civil, not a criminal case.
"There will be no settlement as long as I'm around. None whatsoever," Geragos said.
"You couldn't, number one, under the law of the state buy your way out of felony charges. And number two, I will never do it. I won't allow it. I would resign before I'd ever do that."
Jackson's arraignment Friday was a media circus. Hundreds of fans and hordes of reporters gathered outside the Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse to see the singer arrive approximately 20 minutes late — tardiness that sparked a scolding from the presiding judge.
After the arraignment, as Jackson's entourage was leaving, the singer climbed atop the sport utility vehicle that brought him to court and waved to the fans. Music played and Jackson had his own cameraman there to record the scene.Jackson's legal team was not aware of what was going to take place, and Geragos was actually waving at Jackson to get down off of the SUV, ABCNEWS later learned. Jackson then hosted a gathering at Neverland for fans at the courthouse who were given invitations by his bodyguards.
The judge scheduled a Feb. 13 court session to set the date for a preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there is enough evidence put Jackson on trial.