LOS ANGELES - Less than a week before his latest arraignment, Michael Jackson dumped his high-profile legal team in his child molestation case in favor of a single well-known attorney.
Attorneys Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman "decided to step down" from representing the pop star, Brafman said Sunday. He said the decision was "based on recent developments and discussions with various persons in the Jackson camp" but declined to reveal exactly what prompted the move.
"We both wish Michael well," Brafman added.
Thomas Mesereau Jr., Jackson's new lawyer, represented actor Robert Blake in his murder case until they recently parted company, citing irreconcilable differences.
Mesereau has met with Jackson in the Orlando, Fla., area, where the singer is staying at a compound with his children. He said he would join the singer at a court date Friday, where Jackson will be arraigned on charges in a grand jury indictment handed down last week.
"I'll have no comment on the developments until I appear in court Friday," Mesereau said.
Jackson's spokeswoman, Raymone K. Bain, said she was unaware of the change when asked about it by a reporter. She was expected to release a statement Monday morning.
Geragos, who is currently in Northern California handling the Scott Peterson murder case, said he, Brafman and Mesereau will notify Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville of the substitution of counsel during a conference call Monday. He declined to discuss reasons for the change.
Dana Cole, an attorney who has worked closely with Mesereau on cases including Blake's, said Mesereau was approached by Jackson soon after he was charged with child molestation, but Mesereau was unwilling to consider taking the case because he was tied up with the impending Blake case.
"Michael Jackson has always been very impressed with the pro bono work and contributions Tom has made in the African-American community," Cole said.
Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson said the change could mean Jackson lost faith in his attorneys, or they in him. She also noted that Geragos' representation of Peterson could be a liability in trying to find an unbiased jury, and that Mesereau would bring less baggage to the case.
"Prospective jurors would be asked how they feel about Jackson being represented by someone who represents Scott Peterson," she said. "And Mark is also going to be very busy with the Peterson case."
Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon had no comment, according to Jason Karpf of Tellem Worldwide, a firm handling media inquiries for Sneddon in the Jackson case.
Jackson's case moved into a new phase last week when the grand jury secretly indicted him on child molestation charges. Contents of the indictment are not yet known and will be disclosed at the arraignment. The indictment means that a grand jury has decided there is probable cause to hold Jackson for trial.
The pop superstar is free on $3 million bail.
Jackson, 45, was originally charged with seven counts of lewd or lascivious conduct involving a child under 14 and with administering an intoxicant, reportedly wine, to a child under 14.
A Jackson fan Web site has called on fans to attend Friday's court appearance. When Jackson was first arraigned on a district attorney's complaint, several thousand fans flocked to the courthouse and Jackson entertained them by dancing on top of an SUV.