Tom Mesereau ’69 Fields Questions About Life at Andover, Legal Career, and Famed Jackson Trial

Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. ’69, Michael Jackson’s lawyer and one of Barbara Walter’s “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2006,” was suspended three times in high school before attending Phillips Academy as a post-graduate student. Mr. Mesereau has represented a number of high-profile clients, including Robert Blake, Mike Tyson, and Michael Jackson, whose recent child abuse case brought Mr. Mesereau celebrity status. Also a noted defender of the underprivileged, he has received many awards for his pro-bono projects in minority communities. As an Andover student living in Feuss House, Mr. Mesereau played football, wrestled, and acted in school plays. He also reveled in food fights with his peers. After Andover, Mr. Mesereau majored in government at Harvard University, where he was University Heavyweight Champion in boxing. Mr. Mesereau bartended one summer in Copenhagen, wrote speeches for a congressman in Washington D.C., and attended London School of Economics before enrolling in University of California’s Hastings College of Law. Mr. Mesereau recently formed the new law firm Mesereau & Yu in Los Angeles. He is currently writing on a book about race and the media in the American justice system. Mr. Mesereau recently spoke with the Phillipian about his career and his experiences at Andover. What do you find fascinating about your life? [Barbara Walters] focused on my work in the black community. I’ve won a lot of awards from black churches and black civil rights groups. I’m hoping to start some free legal clinics. I’ll be working on a case in Birmingham, Alabama in February for a man being tried for the death penalty. What do you like most about being a criminal defense attorney? I love fighting for justice, and I believe that people of color and people with poor finances become easy targets for injustice in America. What is the hardest part of your job? Well, you have peoples’ lives in your hands. And for example, in the Michael Jackson case, it was a death penalty case for me; I felt he would never survive [in prison]….The most difficult part of my work is realizing that you are the only person able to bring justice to an unjust situation. Very often it’s a matter of life or death. Could you describe a typical day in the life of Thomas Mesereau? That’s difficult to do. My law partner, [Susan Yu], and I are representing Michael Jackson in civil matters as his general counsel, so we’re on the phone a lot with him in the Middle East–that’s where he’s living now. So it’s hard to describe a typical day since the trial because my life has been turned upside down. Why were you so confident throughout the Michael Jackson trial? I got to know Michael Jackson and the more I got to know him, the more I knew that he was incapable of committing the crimes he was charged with. I always felt we were in the right and I always felt the jury would do the right thing. How is Michael Jackson doing now? He’s doing very well. I saw him in London a couple months ago. He was with his children and he looked very well. Did the media attention bother you? It bothered me, but I didn’t allow it to distract me. I’ve been very critical since the verdict. A very powerful friend in the entertainment business told me that my work has cost many networks a fortune because they were hoping to have air time and stories while [Michael Jackson] was incarcerated. I’m very proud to say that I foiled their attempts. What do you do when you are not working in the firm? My girlfriend and I like to go to films, and we like to entertain friends. I’m addicted to used book stores….I’ve been doing a lot of speaking lately. I spoke at Harvard Law School. Actually, it was the day of the Barbara Walters special. I ran home to the Sheraton Commander hotel to watch [the show]. I’ve been asked to return [to Harvard] in the spring for a symposium on the death penalty. Did you get into any trouble during your time at PA? Other than the food fights, there were a few pranks, but I wasn’t caught then. When it comes to the pranks, I’ll take my Fifth Amendment privilege. What were some of your favorite classes at Andover? You know, all the classes were very good for me. I liked [former Instructor in English] Kelly Wise’s class. He taught a literature class. Really, the entire experience was very positive for me. I also had an Asian history class that I really enjoyed. Is there one particular memory about Andover that has stayed with you? Overall, it was a very positive, enjoyable experience. I liked the teachers; I liked the students. I remember going to church on Sundays. I remember snowball fights. I remember, from the moment I got there, appreciating what a superior secondary school it was. I think anybody going there is very lucky….I especially remember waiting to hear from colleges we’d applied to. I remember what an anxious time that was. I interviewed with the Dean of Admissions at Harvard….He wrote my parents a letter saying he hoped I would go to Harvard. Remember, this was after getting suspended three times. They were in shock.