Claiming his "life is at stake," the star says he personally fires his lead defense team.

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated April 27, 2004 09:00 AM

Michael Jackson said Monday that he personally fired his two lead defense attorneys in his child molestation case because he required “the full attention of those two representing me.”

“I have terminated the services of attorneys Mark Geragos, esquire, and Benjamin Brafman, esquire, effective immediately,” Jackson, 45, said in a statement posted on his Web site.

The New York Times reports that Jackson was particularly unhappy with his legal team after last week’s new indictment (for lewd conduct with a minor) by a Santa Barbara County grand jury — even though that indictment was expected.

“My life is at stake. Therefore, I must feel confident that my interests are of the highest priority,” the statement adds. Geragos — who also has been working on Scott Peterson’s murder trial — and Brafman were replaced by veteran Los Angeles lawyer Thomas Mesereau. Jackson also is retaining the services of defense attorneys Steve Cochran and Robert Sanger, reports Reuters.

Addressing speculation that his Nation of Islam advisers influenced his decision, Jackson also said: “Let me make it clear, I have not replaced my defense team. I have replaced the lead attorneys. And contrary to reports, this is a decision I have personally made.”

But there also have been reports that Geragos and Brafman were unhappy with their client. The legal team was said to be particularly irked by Jackson’s antics after his surrender in January, when he left the Santa Barbara courthouse, climbed aboard his S.U.V. and did a moonwalk for his fans gathered outside.

The two lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment. Brafman told Reuters Sunday that he and Geragos had resigned over “complicated legal and practical issues” that he could not discuss. A gag order exists in the case.

Speaking on Tuesday’s Today show via satellite from Bahrain (where he is lecturing on Islam), Michael’s older brother Jermaine Jackson, said of the shift in lawyers, “I was surprised, but I’m not up on the legal strategy they are taking. But I feel Michael knows what he’s doing.”

Asked if he thought the timing of the decision, only days before Michael’s arraignment, was surprising, Jermaine, 49, said: “As a brother, this whole circus has surprised me. … Michael’s totally innocent, and we stand behind him 100 percent. And everyone knows he’s innocent.”

Of the Nation of Islam advisers, Jermaine said he originally put them there “for security … and Michael knows what’s best.”

Michael Jackson is due to be arraigned on Friday. In December, he was charged with seven counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14, and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent (believed to be wine) to the boy. He has called the charges a “big lie.”