By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
In the hours following Michael Jackson’s death last week, West Coast Sound spoke to the late King of Pop’s longtime attorney Bob Sanger. Sanger represented Jackson for 16 years, and sat at the table with the star throughout the high-profile 2005 People vs. Michael Jackson case, in which the family of Gavin Arviso accused Jackson of child sexual abuse.
West Coast Sound: What have you been thinking about since you heard the news?
Bob Sanger: First of all, he was a great musician and performer, and his impact on music goes on today. I saw something on television today, I forgot who it was, but I looked at it, a current star doing a music video, and thought, “That’s Michael Jackson.”
When you represent him, you do get very close to a person, and I sat next to him for four months in the criminal case. It took a full four months, and he was there every day. But what I did learn in the years that I represented him — particularly in that last case — is that he is a very kind person. Truly from his heart. And his whole family is like that. His mother, Katherine, and his sisters LaToya and Janet — they have their own personalities onstage and everything, but they are the kindest, sweetest people you’ll ever want to meet. And his brothers are very nice; they offer to do what they can for you.
And Michael was the same way. He believed that one of the things he could do in life in addition to entertainment was that he could really help children. And I know that’s going to immediately get some kind of sarcastic response, but it’s absolutely true.
I was there at his ranch when he wasn’t even there, on at least two occasions when he had a giant group of kids come up. One, a bunch of kids who were from hospitals down in L.A. — children’s wards — came up with their families, and another time it was disadvantaged kids with their families. He would bring people up, and it was like they were at Disneyland. His staff was there, and at one point he had a hundred-something people on staff. They would be offering everybody candy, and something to drink, and to play in the game room, and to go to the movie theater. And it was just remarkable to see these kids and their eyes so wide and being treated this way.
Did the attorney in you ever become concerned with that? Here are hundreds of strangers coming into this multimillionaire’s home, and any one of them could have ulterior motives.
Well, you know what? Yeah, the attorney in me, I look at what clients do and I always wonder. But, I’ve got to tell you: Until we saw what this last family tried to do to him, which was so completely bizarre and off the wall, unfounded, manipulative — the D.A. was so committed to get back at Michael Jackson that they just looked with blinders at these people, and ignored the fact that they had scammed other people, and so on. When you saw that family and looked at that, you had to say, “Oh, my God, how vulnerable.” But for a family like this to be able to get the attention of a district attorney and law enforcement was just remarkable. And it just shows you how vulnerable people can be.
And [another] thing was that Michael was extremely well-read. In trial, the judge was doing jury selection, and it was time for break. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that jury service is very, very important.” He’s trying to convince people not to have stupid excuses to get out of jury service. All judges do this. He says, “The jury system is a very time-honored system. It’s been around for 200 years. We’re going to take a break and come back in 15 minutes.”
We stand up and the judge leaves, and Michael turns to me and says, “Bob, the jury system is much older than 200 years, isn’t it?” I said, “Well, yeah, it goes back to the Greeks.” He says, “Oh, yeah, Socrates had a jury trial, didn’t he?” I said, “Yeah, well, you know how it turned out for him.” Michael says, “Yeah, he had to drink the hemlock.” That’s just one little tidbit. We talked about psychology, Freud and Jung, Hawthorne, sociology, black history and sociology dealing with race issues. But he was very well-read in the classics of psychology and history and literature.
He had over 10,000 books at his house. I hate to keep referring to the case, because the case should not define him, but the D.A. went through his entire library and found, for instance, a German art book from 1930-something. And it turned out that the guy who was the artist behind the book had been prosecuted by the Nazis. Nobody knew that, but then the cops get up there and say, “We found this book with pictures of nude people in it.” But it was art, with a lot of text. And they found some other things, a briefcase that didn’t belong to him that had some Playboys in it or something. But they went through the guy’s entire house, 10,000 books. And it caused us to do the same thing, and look at it.