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The case had all the elements of high drama: a setting in the moneyed enclave of Greenwich, Connecticut; a brutal murder; and a Kennedy connection. For defense attorney Mickey Sherman, 57, defending Michael Skakel in 2001 for the 1975 murder of teenager Martha Moxley was the case of a lifetime. His client, however, was found guilty. To make matters worse, earlier this year The Atlantic Monthly published an article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., in which he ridiculed Sherman, blasted celebrity journalist Dominick Dunne (who had sided with the Moxleys against Skakel), and set off a feud whose details have landed in Vanity Fair and on the cover of New York magazine. Here, for the first time, Sherman weighs in.
Jungle Law How did you feel when you walked out of the courtroom the day Skakel was found guilty?
Mickey Sherman I was numb. It was easily the worst day of my life. I'm not the same person, nor will I probably ever be. It's not because I lost the big caseI've lost cases before. It's not because of the public flagellation — losing a case at that level doesn't damage your reputation a lot, because people appreciate that you're playing at that level. It's because I believe that Michael Skakel is not guilty, and it's killing me to think that I was part of a process that didn't work and has resulted in this kid being in jail for 20 years to life. It was my job to make sure that didn't happen.
JL What did you think of Robert Kennedy's article in The Atlantic Monthly? MS I never read it. Obviously, I know what's in it, and Bobby Kennedy called me any number of times to talk to me about it.
JL He, too, believes that an innocent person is in jail. MS He and I totally agree. [But] it's not in Michael Skakel's interest for me to start fighting with family members and putting those issues before the public.
JL In the article, Kennedy wrote, "Michael's problems were aggravated by an overconfident and less-than-zealous defense lawyer who seemed more interested in courting the press and ingratiating himself with Dominick Dunne than in getting his client acquitted." Any comment? MS Again, I was given the opportunity to talk to the magazine, and to talk to Larry King, and I'm not going to get into it now. All I can tell you is, anyone who was at the trial would have a very different opinion. I only wish Bob had gotten a little more involved [at the trial] than he did.
JL Do you think he's lashing out because he feels the same way you do? MS I do. That's why I should be more angry or more vitriolic than I am. Was I confident? Absolutely. Why? Because Michael Skakel did not commit the crime. There was no evidence to suggest he did. I so disagree with the jury that my spleen is popping out of my stomach when I say that. Courting the press is silly. Dominick Dunne has been a friend of mine since I first met him in 1993.
JL Kennedy claimed that you even arrived in a limousine with Dunne. MS He knows that's not true. At one time I went out to lunch with him and the CEO of Court TV.
JL He also wrote that the day after the conviction, "Sherman told me he was going to a Court TV party for Dunne." MS Damn straight! That's true. Did he say anything else there?
JL "When I questioned the propriety of [Sherman's] attending, he said, 'We're friends. What can I say? I'm a kiss-ass. But I make no apologies for being cordial to Dunne.'" MS And I still don't make any apologies for being cordial to Dominick Dunne. But what he leaves out — and he knew this, which kind of really pisses me off — [is that] it was a launch for Dunne's show on Court TV. Why did I go? Because a producer on Dunne's staff tipped me off that Dunne had invited the jury on my case to be there. And the jury had been dodging post-trial interviews from the defense. I went. It worked — I did speak to jurors, five of them, for about an hour and a half. I got some very valuable information that I relayed to the appellate counsel, which may be used in the appeal. I make no apologies for that.
JL Kennedy also wrote, "Even before the trial began Sherman failed to make an interlocutory appeal based on Michael's strongest legal argument — that the court no longer had jurisdiction to hear a case against anyone who was accused of a murder that took place in 1975, because at the time the statute of limitations for murder was five years." MS We argued every possible motion that should have been argued at the appropriate time.
JL What was it like representing a client charged for a crime committed 25 years ago? MS Monumentally frustrating when witnesses had no recollection of what happened, or that recollection was contaminated by what they read in the National Enquirer.
JL What was your first job after graduating from the University of Connecticut Law School in 1971? MS I went to the Stamford courthouse, got a job as a clerk for 30 or 40 bucks a day. Then I worked as a public defender for a year, and then as a prosecutor for four years. But the only way to make enough money to buy a house in this area was to go into private practice or go on quiz shows. I chose the quiz show route. I went on Jackpot, The Joker's Wild, and Pyramid. I won $21,000 in cash, a hot tub, a trip to Hawaii, dishes, cleaning fluid, a camera, and a lot of crap. But it wasn't enough to buy a house, so that's when I quit and became a real lawyer.
JL What's next for you? MS Whoever walks in the door. I have a schizophrenic life of drudgery — hanging out in courthouse corridors talking to prosecutors, and [then] at 5 p.m. pontificating on any given cable news network about what's going on someplace else.
JL Is having a high profile a liability when you step into the courtroom? MS I thought I'd be the subject of resentment, but that hasn't been the case. Do I get a lot of ribbing? Absolutely. People ask me if I'm wearing makeup to the courthouse, things like that. But by and large, being on television gives you undeserved credibility. People seem to think that if you're on TV you must be smarter than people who aren't, which is so not true.
JL We've seen celebrity lawyers peak, then fade. Does that scare you? MS There are four stages to every big-shot lawyer: Who's Mickey Sherman? Get me Mickey Sherman! Get me a Mickey Sherman! Who's Mickey Sherman? I have no qualms that my limited celebrity has a narrow window. You're only as good as your last case.
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