He's either s lick celebrity lawyre eager to suck publicity from one of the biggest legal dramas in the country, or a tough, hard-working attorney compelled by conscience to defend an outmatched underdog.
Mark Geragos, 45, is used to the spotlight, having defended the likes of then-Rep. Gary Condit of Ceres, actress Winona Ryder, acotr Robert Downey Jr., then-first brother Roger Clinton, Whitewater scandal figure Susan McDougal and rapper Nate Dogg. For years, he offered pithy legal commentary on TV talk shows.
Now that he's representing Scott Peterson, observers say, Geragos might cross into the realm of legend alongside Perry Mason and Johnnie Cochran.
It was a move that Geragos could not have predicted. Consider his own words, offered as a TV pundit shortly before and after Peterson's arrest:
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"You'd be hard-pressed to find a prosecutor who couldn't put together an indictment, let alone a conviction. There's a lot of guys sitting in state prison on a lot less evidence. There is just an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence. His defense at this point is, 'Oh, my God, somebody else must have done it and was trying to set me up.' I don't think it's ever going to wash." -- April 16, "Fox on the Record with Greta Van Susteren"
"The most damning piece of circumstantial evidence (a marina receipt) comes out of his own mouth and his own hands. That is just a devastating thing. It's a damning, circumstantial case. The man is a sociopath if he did this crime. This is a guy who has, from Day One, not helped himself in any way." -- April 18, the day of Peterson's arrest, "Larry King Live"
Ten days later, Geragos -- again, on TV -- was asked why Peterson might have lied to Amber Frey about being single. Geragos answered, "Because he's a cad. When guys commit adultery, guys lie to a single woman in order to get them into bed."
On April 29, Geragos met with Peterson in jail and with the public defenders on the case. The next day, he revealed that he had met with Peterson's family and was intrigued at the thought of taking on a formidable challenge. On
May 2, he made the announcement, saying he felt it his duty as a defense lawyer.
With the media-savvy Geragos at the helm, the landscape quickly changed. Stories ran wild about a sinister brown van, a mysterious woman with important information, the condition of the bodies of mother and child, and a possible satanic cult connection.
A court-imposed gag order took Geragos off the air, but fueled speculation. He found other ways to generate headlines, for instance, asking a judge to hold in contempt of court the lawyer of Peterson's former girlfriend as well as District Attorney James Brazelton.
Geragos also asked for a closed preliminary hearing that would bar reporters and cameras. When the judge turned down that request, Geragos argued to let TV cameras cover the proceeding -- a request the judge also denied.
Geragos periodically allows co- counsel Kirk McAllister of Modesto to argue a legal point -- but has been known to jump up and take over before McAllister can finish.
Lately he's been spotted in Modesto night spots hobnobbing with Condit and Condit's 28-year-old daughter, Cadee.
Geragos is the managing partner of a boutique law firm that includes his father and brother. He and his wife of 15 years, Paulette, have a 12-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. The children were named after his grandparents, who settled in Fresno after escaping genocide in Armenia.
"Hearing their stories may have been the greatest single determinant for my defending underdogs," Geragos said. "The thing I think defines me most is being Armenian."
Another prominent Los Angeles defense attorney, Harland Braun, said his longtime friend showed courage to take the case of a man vilified not only in Modesto, but around the world.
Said Braun, "(Geragos) is no longer appearing on 'Larry King Live,' so it cost him publicity. But that's what public lawyers do -- they defend people charged with a crime."