Thomas Mesereau ’69 Reflects on Law, Justice, Andover

This Wednesday, the Andover community welcomed back to campus “The Mess,” or Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. ’69 as he is known to an international legal community, as the second speaker in the Finis Origine Pendet alumni speaker series.

Mesereau, a successful Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, spent one year at Andover as a post-graduate student. Among his other high-profile cases, Mesereau defended Michael Jackson and Robert Blake. His All-School Meeting address touched on how Andover helped shape his career as a student and as a lawyer.

Andover was a chance to grow and mature, according to Mesereau.

“The year I spent here was so eye-opening in so many ways, so broadening, so good for me,” said Mesereau in his speech at ASM.

He told students that, through experiences inside and outside the classroom, he discovered that Andover was a place to gain perspective on lifetime opportunities.

“One thing about Andover is, if it does anything, it stimulates your imagination to have great dreams about yourself and what you’re meant to do and what kind of life you can lead,” said Mesereau.

Mesereau said that his experience at Andover was not always easy.

Mesereau said, “I had to climb my way through an extreme level of unconfidence, but one of the great benefits of this wonderful school is the people you can study and learn from, and associate with. And as you grow as a person, you realize other people have the same insecurities you have…it was a year of nothing but discovery for me, on a personal level, on an academic level, on every level.”

“The education, the overall social and cultural experience, the confidence I developed when I realized that I could actually be here and get through it and [the] function all contributed to the steps that led me to be a lawyer,” he added in an interview with The Phillipian.

After completing his education, Mesereau began his career as a lawyer in various legal fields, including civil law and prosecution. After settling on criminal defense as his area of specialty, Mesereau still felt unfulfilled.

“I woke up one day and everything in life looked good but I didn’t feel good. I was doing everything that everyone told me was exceptional, but I didn’t feel exceptional…and I said I’ve got to make a change, I’ve got to learn more about who I am,” said Mesereau.

Mesereau founded a non-profit legal clinic in Los Angeles, and takes on one capital murder case in the Deep South each year for free and to advocate for legal education and and gang violence prevention.

Nikita Singareddy ’13 said, “I think he really reflects non-sibi and Andover in the sense that you can be successful and you can do incredible work and you can contribute to society but you can also have a non sibi part.”

Nicole Villar-Hernandez ’12 said, “What I’m excited to talk to him about is sort of his journey from being a lawyer and making tons of money to working for the poor.”

Mesereau also spoke about defending Michael Jackson in his child molestation trial and about the music superstar himself. According to Mesereau, Jackson had to overcome an unfair media bias to protect his innocence.

“There’s something about American society that wants to see us go sky high and just splatter, and here’s the person who had reached highest, so all they needed was one more chapter: guilty,” he said.

Mesereau said that Jackson’s trial illustrated the high quality of the American justice system, but also recognized the system’s flaws.

“I see my job as having a couple of purposes. One is to see innocent people acquitted. Two is to see people who maybe be guilty of something but over-charged, by the prosecution, to see them vindicated. And three, just as important as anything else, is to make the system work,” said Mesereau.

In an interview, Mesereau said that he would represent a guilty client. He said, “It’s not just to get people acquitted, it’s not just to see that power isn’t abused, even if someone’s guilty of something, they may not be guilty of what they’re charged with.”

Danny Gottfried ’12 said, “I do Mock Trial so I’m interested in law anyway but I thought that his opinion about the American justice system, how it was the best in the world and what he was able to share about how he thought he should defend someone even if they were guilty just to make the justice system work was very powerful.”

Debbie Murphy ’86, Director of Alumni Affairs, organized Mesereau’s return to campus. According to Murphy, Mesereau’s visit as part of the Finis Origine Pendent series took almost a year to organize.

“[Mesereau’s] name came up as one of many alumni who could do this… often when we reach out to some of these alums the timing isn’t right or the date isn’t right, and we talked about him for the fall meeting and something came up and he said, ‘No but I can come in the winter.’ We were excited that this worked out,” said Murphy.