Trial By Media: How High Profile Trials Have Changed in the Media
We speak to Eric Dubin, a relentless attorney in the Orange County, that often works on heartbreaking cases to ensure justice has been served to those who need to be served it the most.
With commitment and compassion, Dubin has time and time again won challenging cases for his clients and did what most deemed impossible. Once quoted saying that ‘It’s particularly emotional when you’re fighting for the death of a child or a parent, or a permanent disability. I take all my cases very personally; I feel my client’s pain’, we unravel and discuss one of Dubin’s most spoken about cases to this date: Robert Blake’s trial.
And when speaking to the Lawyer of the Year in Orange County for Plaintiff Personal Injury on this landmark case, we explore a frequent pressing question: whether or not celebrities that are facing trial are treated differently to the common person. Dubin discusses with us to how high profile trials have changed since the 2005 Blake trial and whether outcomes for other celebrity trials, such as Micheal Jackson’s, would differ now.
Let’s rewind to 2002 when Robert Blake, an American actor best known for his starring roles in the film ‘In Cold Blood’ and the US television series Baretta, was arrested and charged with his wife’s murder. What happened sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. A year prior his arrest, Robert’s wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, was sitting in Blake’s vehicle when she was fatally shot in the head whilst waiting for him to return from the restaurant they both had just dined at. Two years after his arrest, on December 2004, Blake’s murder trial began and by March 2005, he was found not guilty of murder and not guilty of one of the two counts of solicitation of murder.
However, later that year Bakley’s four children filed a lawsuit against Blake, stating that he was, in fact, responsible for their mother’s death. And so in November 2005, a jury found Robert Blake liable for Bakley’s death, ordering him to pay $30 million.
Who was the man behind the win that managed to achieve justice when the state failed to? Eric Dubin, one of the top 20 lawyers in the state of California, or, as he has recently been named “Lawyer of the Year” in both Orange County and Los Angeles.
With the murder trial deliberating whether or not Blake was responsible for his wife’s death, Bakley’s family – her sister especially – felt like Bakley’s character had been run through the mud and turned to Dubin for help. In what was a ‘Perry Mason’ moment during the civil trial, Dubin ‘convinced the jury that Bonny was a loving mom, regardless of the massive media-trashing about her name and her life, who loved her children’.
How, after years of a seemingly never-ending trial that concluded Blake to be innocent, did Dubin manage to convince the jury he was anything but innocent? Stating he had to give ‘the performance of his lifetime’ to win, Dubin – who is renowned for his relentless and hardworking nature – wanted to ensure that if Blake was going to win the civil trial, he would have to ‘beat his best’ performance.
Speaking to Attorney at Law Magazine, Dubin says ‘Winning is the result of preparation. You cannot know and win a case like this if you don’t do the footwork on your own’, and so he spent all of his extra time and ever waking hour preparing to put Blake on the stand. He says, ‘In fact, I kept pushing the [cross-exam] date back just to give me more time to keep preparing.’
The turnaround moment, however, was when Dubin had called the girlfriend of Blake’s co-defendant Earle Caldwell to the stand and asked her something no one had asked before and one question which could have cost Dubin the entire trial. Dubin recalls that dead silence had filled the courtroom as he asked if she believed that Blake and Caldwell were involved in the killing of Bonny Lee Bakley. In his book, The Star Chamber: How Celebrities Go Free and Their Lawyers Become Famous, Dubin recalls how ‘Tears filled her eyes as she paused for what seemed like a decade, then leaned into the microphone and said that yes, she did believe that they were involved’.
‘Proving Blake guilty was naturally the prime objective’, said Dubin ‘but it was also incredibly important for me to rectify the damage he and his defense team had done to her reputation.’
In a sense, Dubin recalls when interviewed by The Los Angeles Times, ‘He killed her twice, first in the car and then in the media. Getting that verdict literally changed the course of those kids’ lives.’
With this being one of the largest investigations in LAPD history at its time, Dubin had his work cut out for him. He was facing Blake’s lawyer, who had not lost a trial since 1970 and even though it seemed as his hard work certainly paid off, it still does not eradicate the pressing question to whether celebrities are ‘let off the hook’ or treated differently due to their fame and money.
Of course, we all wish to remain far from dubious when we think about the legal system. Where corruption may spike some courts across the globe, the US prides itself on its justice system, believing that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and that, in relation to the Fifth Amendment, that ‘No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury’. Yet, over time, we have seen famous celebrities being held under major scrutiny, being slated on the media for their wrong-doing, to be proven innocent and able to carry on with their career.
This impending question to whether celebrities are ‘let off’ inspired Dubin to publish two books, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, which he co-authored with Larry King, and The Star Chamber: How Celebrities Go Free and Their Lawyers Become Famous to further educate others about injustices he’s found throughout the course of his legal career. But with the rise of social media and the rise of public access to trial proceedings, have high profile trials changed over the years? If Blake’s murder trial occurred now, would anything be different?
Speaking to Eric Dubin himself on this, he says, ‘When I won the $30 million Robert Blake Wrongful Death verdict social media was just at its infancy stages. Public access and commentary to trials were primarily limited to specific site blogs like Court TV, and the news outlets still primarily controlled what the general public knew about the case. ‘
That was an advantage for the high profile defendant, he explains, who had more access to the mainstream media than victims who lacked the star power and connections. ‘One of my first missions after accepting the Blake case was to try and even the media playing field for Bonny Lee Bakley’s kids, so our potential jury pool would not be closed-minded after years of exposure to the limited information being reported’, Dubin shares.
Would Bill Cosby been convicted in 2001, before the onslaught of 24-hour news and social media? Dubin expands, stating that Cosby used the same lawyer as Robert Blake and Michael Jackson, Tom Mesereau, who is a master both inside and outside the court. The different outcome clearly signalled that celebrity justice is a thing of the past.
‘Celebrity justice has evolved from a star’s ability to avoid justice to a 24-hour rotating reminder that no one is above the law. 24-hour news and social media have made the avoidance of justice a thing of the past, and one-sided press releases with high profile defendants hiding behind victim bashing lawyers is no longer a blueprint for success.’
As Dubin has explained before, the media can be an amazing tool, but it can be brutal. ‘Trial lawyers are definitely fair game. I learned that the more you say to the media, the less power you have. The key is to have a plan and purpose, and anticipate the media’s angle before you speak.’
To get his message of justice out to the world, Dubin has learned to emphasis his message over and over again, no matter what questions the reporters are asking.
Victims now have numerous and competing media outlets to stand toe to toe with one-sided high profile propaganda, and social media platforms like Twitter is a flat out game changer. As Dubin shares: ‘Live time responses are now commonplace, and victims ability to call out nonsense and falsities has levelled the high profile playing field. Bill Cosby being in prison is a reflection of the new times.’
And with the media powerhouse still being a strong influencing force, Dubin says that through all the years of worldwide attention during the Robert Blake case, he figured out how to use the power of the media only when it benefits his clients. ‘The quest is still the same today in all trials, truth and justice!
‘One of my favourite quotes from the Blake era was from Newsweek Magazine after I proved Robert Blake had killed Bonny, it read: “We still may not have captured Osama Bin Ladin, but at least we got Robert Blake.” I took great pride in proving Blake was responsible for Bonny’s death to both our jury and the world, and setting the record straight for all.’
Super Lawyer 2020
Lawyer of the Year Orange County 2019
Lawyer of the Year Los Angeles 2016
Best Lawyer Orange County 2013
Even though he remains humane and humble, Eric Dubin is well-known and associated with high-profile cases like the Robert Blake case, but he’s an Orange County personal injury attorney who will help you with legal issues, even if you are not a celebrity.
He was named Top 20 Lawyer in the state of California and is also recognised as the winner of a $30 million dollar verdict against actor Robert Blake in the high profile wrongful death/personal injury case. In 2015, Eric obtained a massive landmark jury award in Orange County, carving a brand new path around the MICRA cap. Among his numerous awards are Top 20 Lawyers in California; Top 100 Trial Lawyers in America; Best Lawyer in Orange County 2013; Lawyer of the Year Los Angeles 2016, Super Lawyer, and Best Law Firms in America.
Specialising in personal injury and wrongful death, Eric is also a legal analysis for ABC News and been featured hundreds of times on TV shows and newspapers around the world. Eric received prestigious profiles on the cover of both the LA Times and OC Register, and In 2016 he was awarded the Hero of Hope Award.
in 2019, he was named Lawyer of the Year in Orange County for Plaintiff Personal Injury.
Dubin Law is a plaintiff’s firm representing victims of personal injury, wrongful death and major accidents. If you are a victim of any of these, Eric Dubin will make sure that you get what you deserve.
What makes Dubin Law different from other firms? Eric will personally handle your case and not just assign it to an inexperienced lawyer. In fact, you can contact Eric directly at any time of the day. Once he handles your case, you can text or call him on his cellular phone. What more can you ask for from your lawyer?
Making the decision of hiring an award-winning and competent Orange County injury attorney will give you peace of mind. There is nothing like knowing that a capable lawyer is working tirelessly and focusing personally on your case. This is what makes Dubin Law different from other firms – the personal service they give to make sure you get what you deserve. Eric has obtained seven-figure verdicts and settlements in counties all over Southern California. He can also do it for you.
Over the years, Dubin Law has won millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for deserving victims and families, including damages caused by Negligence, Drunk Drivers, Dangerous Products, Breach of Contract, and Fraud. Eric had one of the Top 10 biggest jury verdicts in the State of California, and Top 100 largest jury verdicts in America. A few of Eric’s past cases include:
- 42 Million Dollar Wrongful Death Jury Verdict – Los Angeles (2006)
- 4 Million Dangerous Property Settlement – San Diego (2011)
- 2 Million Dollar Negligence Jury Verdict – Orange County (2015)
- 15 Million Dollar Negligence Settlement-Los Angeles (2017)
- 5 Million Jury Verdict-Pomona (2019)
A landmark case the firm, and Eric himself, has worked on: Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), where Eric’s clients – the family of a 15-year-old who died as a direct result of the staff’s failure to administer his anti-seizure medication – were awarded $10.2 million in punitive and actual damages. A law that had also been in place for nearly 40 years, putting a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases, was successfully challenged from this case and the verdict immediately snatched up for inclusion in the 2016 California Jury Instructions Handbook. Eric’s momentous win has lain the groundwork for future attorneys to attack the archaic law.