Not since the O.J. Simpson murder trial has a case involving domestic violence received so much national attention. The unfortunate saga between pop princess Rihanna and golden boy Chris Brown has generated so much heated debate among men and women—young and old—about the dark side of love and abuse. Brown's attorney, Mark Geragos, who has represented everyone from Michael Jackson to Winona Ryder, speaks out for the first time in an exclusive interview with ESSENCE.com to offer some insight into how the media frenzy has affected this case, his soft spot for the underdog, and why he won't stand by and let folks get away with leaking those scandalous photos.
ESSENCE.COM: We've followed your impressive career from Michael Jackson to Winona Ryder. Would you classify yourself as a celebrity lawyer?
MARK GERAGOS: I do not. I really don't know when that started becoming a moniker for me, but it's not something that I embrace. Twenty-five percent of the people I represent are pro bono and I've been fortunate at this stage in my career that I can do that. I try to take cases that have the most merit or that I'm most interested in. I'm attracted to cases where I think somebody is getting a raw deal or there's a fight for the underdog. I've always felt like it's been in my DNA to represent those like my family because I'm an Armenian American whose parents escaped the Armenian genocide.
ESSENCE.COM: The court of public opinion surrounding Chris Brown's case has been so strong and loud. What's special about this incident that has rendered such an outpouring of opinions, responses and comments?
GERAGOS: I never talk about the case while I'm in the middle of it. However, I will say that, in this day and age, I've seen a number of cases where there is a cross section between the Internet and the tabloid media and, unfortunately, it's spilled into mainstream media. Sometimes you get cases that pique the public's interest. That could either be because of the notoriety of the particular client or the complaining witness or it could simply be that it's a slow news day.
ESSENCE.COM: What are the challenges when representing a celebrity case? How does it differ from a citizen trial?
GERAGOS: I will never pinpoint it as one kind of case or another. Any case where there is publicity has its own unique challenges and one of those is that there is a constant drumbeat of misinformation. I've seen that in virtually every case I've had that gets some publicity and it's unfortunate. One of the problems with the Internet, which is one of the greatest changes that has taken place during my lifetime, is that the dark underside is that there are so many rumors and bloggers who just pass along information that is false and that's the most frustrating.
ESSENCE.COM: How has the media circus surrounding this case affected your legal strategy?
GERAGOS: I understand in any case that has publicity—and I'm not referring to [Chris Brown's] in particular—people make snap judgments. People watch TV and they think they really know what's going on. I would just say reserve judgment because the greatest thing that America stands for is a presumption of innocence. It's amazing to me that the people who will invest all of their opinions based on the media are the same ones who, if you ask them, don't trust anything in the media. There's almost a bipolar quality in it.
ESSENCE.COM: This case has been sensationalized—leaks such as the image of a bruised Rihanna to the recent nude photos featuring your client and the alleged victim in the case. Will this have any bearing on the case?
GERAGOS: Again, I will only tell you that when my clients get violated I will stand on. When surrendering Michael Jackson from Las Vegas a gentleman thought he was going to tape the conversation between Michael and me while we were on the plane and sell it to the news agencies. I immediately got the FBI involved and had these people arrested. We sued them and I won a 20 million dollar judgment against them and they were convicted and sent to prison. Every client I represent, whether they are someone you've never heard of or someone you hear about every day, we take the position that you are not going to violate their privacy and their rights. So, to your question, I'll just say stay tuned to what we're going to do.
Chris Brown returns to court on June 22.