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Thread: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

   
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    Default Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team

    The lawyers representing Dr. Conrad Murray in Los Angeles Superior Court had no reason to cheer on Nov. 8, but it wasn't just the guilty verdict that created tension on the trial team.

    For much of the trial, discord dominated relations between Houston lawyer Ed Chernoff, who led the criminal-defense team for Murray, and his co-counsel J. Michael Flanagan of Glendale, Calif.'s Flanagan Unger Grover & McCool. Neither lawyer plans to represent Murray on appeal.

    "This is the first time I've done a case with co-counsel in 30 years, and we had a difference of opinion about how the case should be handled," Flanagan says.

    The California criminal trial of Murray ended with the jury convicting him of one count of involuntary manslaughter related to the death of pop star Michael Jackson. Citing Murray's significant ties outside the state of California (Murray formerly had a practice in Houston) and public safety concerns, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor remanded Murray into custody, noting sentencing would occur on Nov. 29.

    Chernoff of Stradley Chernoff & Alford sat at the defense table with Flanagan for the entire six weeks of the trial. At the start, Chernoff lived at Flanagan's home to save on expenses, but after several weeks Chernoff says he moved out. The cause of the strained relationship? Disagreements over trial strategy, specifically how to handle the examination of expert witnesses, among other things. Plus, Chernoff says, "You can only impose on co-counsel for so long."

    Flanagan says, "Dr. Murray got Monday morning-quarterbacking on his doctoring, so I don't want to be Monday morning-quarterbacking Ed's lawyering." But he notes that he disagreed with Chernoff over whether Murray should testify on his own behalf: Flanagan thought he should, but Chernoff said no. In the end, Murray did not take the stand.

    "You had a doctor providing an unusual drug under unusual circumstances for an unusual person. We could never get past that as logical as we tried to be. And as much as we tried to differentiate the case from that, we couldn't get past it. There was an elephant in the room and we could never feed it enough peanuts," Chernoff says, referring to the decision not to have Murray testify.

    But Flanagan says, "I think the elephant was the need for the doctor to explain what he did."

    Flanagan says he also proposed a different tack for cross-examining the last prosecution witness: Dr. Stephen Shafer, an anesthesiologist. "I thought we ought to go after Shafer real hard. Ed didn't," Flanagan says. At trial, it was Chernoff who cross-examined Shafer — instead of Flanagan, as the defense team initially had planned.

    The tension between Chernoff and Flanagan was apparent in the documentary "Michael Jackson and the Doctor: A Fatal Friendship," which recently aired on MNSBC and other networks. In one scene, Chernoff prepares to leave Flanagan's house as Flanagan curses at Chernoff, then admonishes him saying he has the trial strategy "all mapped out. . . ."

    Chernoff says "the carnival atmosphere" put more pressure on the defense team and on Murray. "The press tried to create drama; the whole thing was a reality show," Chernoff says. Thankfully, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helped the defense team use "backdoor entrances" to avoid the press, he says. "They took my client and me away from the hordes of people out there when they could have done nothing."

    Occasional weekends home in Houston and several excursions to the beach in California also eased the stress, Chernoff says.

    "In a trial like this you are going to have some disagreements among the counsel, and the lead counsel has to make the decisions," Chernoff says. "And that's the way it was happening at this trial. I had to make some decisions."

    Back to California

    Within 48 hours of the verdict in People of the State of California v. Conrad Robert Murray , Chernoff had flown back to Houston, welcomed by his law partners who needed him to get back to work right away. But it isn't just Murrays' sentencing that will have Chernoff and partner Matt Alford back in California on Nov. 29.

    Judge Pastor has ordered Alford to appear before him at a hearing related to Alford's September appearance on NBC's "Today" show. Pastor had issued a gag order in Murray's case. "In my 20 years of practice I have never knowingly or otherwise violated a court order," Alford says.

    Chernoff says of the hearing, "I think it's bullish and typical."

    Chernoff and Flanagan will represent Murray at his Nov. 29 sentencing hearing, where Murray faces up to four years in prison. Chernoff says he has turned to a sentencing specialist with a background in the California justice system for help preparing. He has not decided if he will present any witnesses at the hearing. Unlike Texas, California juries do not participate in sentencing, he says.

    Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Murray, did not return a telephone call and an email seeking comment.

    Chernoff says he has received telephone calls from prospective clients who watched him defend Murray. "I've already got a couple calls from California," notes Chernoff, who passed the California bar exam last year. [See "Houston Meets Hollywood," Texas Lawyer , Jan. 31, 2011, page 1.]

    But he has no plans to take on any more California cases. "I'm not saying there is not another case; I reckon I will. But it's going to have to be a special case."

    It is unknown who will represent Murray in his appeal, Chernoff says. Flanagan says he prefers trial work. Chernoff says he already has spent three months away from his Houston firm, and his partners and family "deserve better than that." Plus he has a trial set to begin in a Houston court on Dec. 15.

    He believes a new lawyer who wasn't involved with the trial will have a fresh perspective and be better equipped to develop an effective appellate strategy for Murray.

    Citing attorney-client privilege, Chernoff and Flanagan decline to discuss how much they charged Murray in legal fees. But so far, the financial remuneration for representing Murray has not been equal to the task, Chernoff says. "If Dr. Murray had paid me a quarter-million dollars, it was entirely too little considering the amount of work that was involved and the collateral issues that were attached," Chernoff says.

    In January, Chernoff told Texas Lawyer, "If I walk out with my client at the end of the trial, it's going to have a tremendous impact on my practice. If I don't walk out [with him], I'm going to be the guy who lost the biggest trial since O.J. Simpson's." Now that Murray's trial is over, Chernoff sticks by that sentiment.

    "I'm glad I did it," he says, "but, yes, it's a big loss. But as a defense attorney you are not worth a crap if you don't try these things. Defense attorneys often lose, but what differentiates those attorneys are those who are willing to get on the bull in the first place."

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    You're gonna kill me, but I like Chernoff. He was sensible in not allowing Murray to testify. Not confronting Shafer, something Flanagan wanted to. I like the way he says "as a defense attorney you are not worth a crap if you don't try these things. Defense attorneys often lose, but what differentiates those attorneys are those who are willing to get on the bull in the first place." It was a lost case since the beginning, however, even losing the case, it will have a positive effect in his career.

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    I prefer Chernoff to Flanagan, even though the defence was all over the place. He was completely right in not allowing Murray on the stand as Walgren would have torn him to absolute shreds.

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    Quote Originally Posted by kissybissy View Post
    You're gonna kill me, but I like Chernoff. He was sensible in not allowing Murray to testify. Not confronting Shafer, something Flanagan wanted to. I like the way he says "as a defense attorney you are not worth a crap if you don't try these things. Defense attorneys often lose, but what differentiates those attorneys are those who are willing to get on the bull in the first place." It was a lost case since the beginning, however, even losing the case, it will have a positive effect in his career.
    I liked Chernoff also. Judge limited the defense in a huge way, I would have liked to have Thome, Klein, KF & others testify.
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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    Judge Pastor has ordered Alford to appear before him at a hearing related to Alford's September appearance on NBC's "Today" show. Pastor had issued a gag order in Murray's case. "In my 20 years of practice I have never knowingly or otherwise violated a court order," Alford says.

    Chernoff says of the hearing, "I think it's bullish and typical."

    Well i think that was arrogant of chernoff to say that

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    Quote Originally Posted by Sophielo View Post
    I prefer Chernoff to Flanagan, even though the defence was all over the place. He was completely right in not allowing Murray on the stand as Walgren would have torn him to absolute shreds.
    Personally, this is the biggest thing I'm upset over that Murray's ass got away without testifying. Grandpa Flanazepam-Senile should have won this fight, and let Murray take the stand, it would've been great, to see his arrogant ass under oath. I'm sure he would've attacked Walgren, but no doubt Walgren would've torn his ugly disgusting smelly ass apart, something he would've deserved.
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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    I also changed my mind about Chernoff when I watched the documentary. I think that it is possible that Murray lied to him back in 2009, he would never of allowed the police interview otherwise. By the time they went to trial, he knew they had no case. Flanagan was more likable during the trial but most of the time it seemed as he was working for the prosecution. And however rude and obnoxious Chernoff was, the aggressiveness is part of the job description.

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    Chernoff was doing his job, i do not have a problem with him.
    Even a guilty defendant has the right to an attorney.
    As a person Chernoff seems okay to me.

    Flanagan, after watching the documentaire, is a narrowminded asshole in my opinion.

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    I can't but admit sometimes Chernoff did a brilliant cross. Sometimes he even had a bit of respect to victim (let's remember his words during 'family dinner' in Murray documentary).

    I've heard Chernoff was against airing this film, wasnt he? If so, i'm really not suprised why he decided not to represent Murray on appeal. It's hard to imagine worse look of his client who did that losing interview and irreverent film instead of honest testimony in the courtroom.

    I'm for sure Flanagan was a disaster for Murray's defence. I cant understand why he crossed key witnesses. All could see he was a loser.
    Last edited by Mirabella76; 20-11-2011 at 06:01 PM.

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    chernoff was an arsehole as a lawyer with his snide comments at witnesses. whether its a show he puts on for his job i dont know but even if it is you have to be that sort of person to start with to act like that in the first place imo

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    Quote Originally Posted by elusive moonwalker View Post
    chernoff was an arsehole as a lawyer with his snide comments at witnesses. whether its a show he puts on for his job i dont know but even if it is you have to be that sort of person to start with to act like that in the first place imo
    i think it's because he often lost his temper. he could nothing to do but to be tough. sure it was very pointedly

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    Quote Originally Posted by Popescu View Post
    I also changed my mind about Chernoff when I watched the documentary. I think that it is possible that Murray lied to him back in 2009, he would never of allowed the police interview otherwise. By the time they went to trial, he knew they had no case. Flanagan was more likable during the trial but most of the time it seemed as he was working for the prosecution. And however rude and obnoxious Chernoff was, the aggressiveness is part of the job description.
    I agree, and I think Flanagan was pretty much the sole reason the defence sucked so much during the trial. He wanted to talk to Shafer about truly irrelevant things and Chernoff saw the hopelessness in doing that, and asking Murray to testify?! Lunacy! I would have sworn Flanagan was a prosecution lawyer if I hadn't been watching the trial from day one, just on the kind of questions he asked and the way he acted.

    He was a Hell of a lot more likable in the courtroom than Chernoff, who was arrogant and rude. I find it interesting they completely switched personalities for the MSNBC documentary, so I'm not sure how authentic a representation of either that documentary presents. Unlike the live streams, documentaries can be skewed and edited to show whatever the filmmaker wants to present (see Bashir), so I don't put much stock in them, even on extraneous matters. It's always the filmmaker's lens we're seeing, and not the events as they truly unfolded.

    With that said, I think it is very possible that Murray misrepresented his situation to both Chernoff and Flanagan back in 2009, and by the time either realized what they had gotten themselves into, it was most probably too late--which explains why they're both walking out now. If you truly cared about your client or believed in his innocence, chances are you would stick around for an appeal. I think Chernoff's reasons are the more valid of the two--he has had to make various sacrifices to represent Murray for as long as he did, being an out-of-state attorney. His family does indeed deserve better, as they have nothing to do with Murray or his horsef--ery.

    Flanagan's reason are just lolworthy. He's basically just not wanting to do it at all, and being local, he very well could do it without much sacrifice on his part. I take it neither of them are entirely thrilled with their paycheck.

    @Twinklee: I don't think Flanazapam has ever won a fight in his life--except maybe the one where he got rid of Chernoff, but Cherry kinda walked out on him, so I'm not sure that even counts. But I agree, I would have liked to see Murray testify, even if the proposal itself was basically defence suicide.

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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    The defence was allowed to use the back door to enter the court??? If I remember correctly Michael always had to use the front entrance in 2005.
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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    I read Flanny was supposed to be the "medical" side of the defense, and he totally sucked at it, which surprised me. He couldnt even read the names of medical items/products, had no point, didnt seem to have his questions ready. He was absolutely ridiculous, and far worse than Chernoff. Maybe Chernoff is a bit of an arse outside of a courtroom, and was certainly irritating at times, but I didnt get the bad vibes I got from Flanagan who seemed very arrogant. I dont think Chernoff's a "bad guy", even if I agree he was sometimes very rude with the witnesses.

    The fact they dont get along does not surprise me at all. I've got the feeling Chernoff deeply regrets his involvement in the case.
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    Default Re: Discord Over Strategy on Dr. Conrad Murray's Defense Team. Law.com

    He couldnt even read the names of medical items/products, had no point, didnt seem to have his questions ready. He was absolutely ridiculous, and far worse than Chernoff.
    Sometimes he looked like drunk.

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