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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 01:06 GMT 02:06 UK
Jackson counts the cost of freedom
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Santa Maria

A Jackson fan holds up a banner portraying Mr Mesereau as Mr Incredible
Jackson's legal bill is expected to seriously dent his finances
The price of Michael Jackson's freedom is a legal bill that would bankrupt any ordinary defendant - and a financial blow to the county that ran the unsuccessful prosecution.

It is thought the pop star may have to pay up to $5m to his high-powered defence team, led by celebrity lawyer Thomas Mesereau.

This will only add to Jackson's money worries.

During the trial prosecutors suggested he had debts of $300m (156m) and accused him of being on the "precipice of bankruptcy".

Michael Brennan, a University of Southern California law professor and a practising criminal defence attorney, said the trial would put a "substantial dent" in Jackson's finances.

"Defence lawyers generally agree a fee before starting work - that could be a million dollars each in this case," he said.

"But in a huge job like this, when you don't really know how much work will need to be done, they may charge an hourly rate."

$500 per hour

A top attorney like Mr Mesereau could command fees of more than $500 per hour, he said, although Mr Mesereau's office was unable to confirm a figure.

Private investigators played a crucial role in Jackson's acquittal - digging deep into the background of the Arvizo family and key prosecution witnesses.

They too are not cheap when hired on a daily rate - with the bill possibly exceeding $500,000 in this case.

"There's no provision here for Mr Jackson to recoup any of his costs - which could be as high as $5m," said Prof Brennan.

"If you can afford to retain counsel, you are not recompensable."

There are not many people that could have afforded to defend themselves in this way, given the vast scope of the case
Professor Michael Brennan
Some critics of the US justice system suggest that the ability of only the rich to afford the very best legal experts leads to great inequalities at law.

"There are not many people that could have afforded to defend themselves in this way, given the vast scope of the case," Prof Brennan added.

But Jackson's ability to pay for the priceless court victory, may depend on him taking drastic action.

Observers say even a lucrative return to performing may not be enough to shield him from his debts.

The singer may have to fall back on assets like his Neverland estate - valued at $100m or his prized music copyright holdings.

Prosecution's bill

The residents of Santa Barbara County, however, could have a harder time paying for the unsuccessful prosecution of the singer.

A media stall in the car park of the Santa Maria courthouse
News groups paid substantial sums to ensure ringside coverage of the trial
Latest estimates put costs to the county at more than $2.1m - without the tens of thousands of dollars for the investigation or the costs of the grand jury, the prosecution's criminal costs and other expenditures.

The county was able to defray some of the trial costs - which also include private security, staffing and vehicle hire - by renting out space to media groups.

The Santa Barbara News Press reported that the county had been charging $7,500 per day for space in the court car park, but said this was reduced after strong protests.

For the city of Santa Maria itself, however, the picture was slightly rosier.

Although policing cost about $250,000, some $215,000 was offset by deals worked out with media organisations.

Meanwhile, the hordes of journalists that descended on the town - some 2,200 from 34 countries were accredited - meant boom time for many hotels and restaurants and a boost to the housing rental market.

One particular beneficiary was Coffee Diem - a cafe and wireless internet location behind the court complex that was almost constantly overflowing for much of the trial.

Proprietor Carmen Jenkins is reportedly buying a new BMW.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear Michael Jackson's lawyer on the star's acquital



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