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Court TV

Lawyer's departure puts Blake case in disarray

By John Springer
Court TV

Mesereau, seen above right earlier this week in court with Blake, refused to detail why he left the actor's murder case.
Mesereau, seen above right earlier this week in court with Blake, refused to detail why he left the actor's murder case.

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(Court TV) -- Actor Robert Blake's murder trial came to a screeching halt Thursday when the presiding judge agreed to release Blake's second lead attorney, who cited unspecified "irreconcilable differences" between him and his famous client.

It was not immediately clear what prompted Thomas Mesereau Jr. to drop the case, and his cell phone rang unanswered Thursday.

Mesereau repeated "I have no comment" several times when reporters surrounded him outside the courthouse. Blake, according to a print reporter who was there, said he and Bonny Lee Bakley's young daughter, Rosie, owe Mesereau their "lives" but did not answer any questions about the apparent rift.

Blake sang "Amazing Grace" as he walked to a car to take him home, where he remains under house arrest pending the outcome of his trial.

There were no outward signs of acrimony between Blake and Mesereau during pretrial hearings, and Blake's spontaneous performance of "Over The Rainbow" outside the courthouse Monday played second fiddle to the fallout over the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake stunt during the Super Bowl.

Mesereau took the case in November 2002 when Blake's previous lawyer, Harland Braun, quit because he disagreed with Blake's decision to grant a national TV interview from jail.

Jury selection in the Blake case was scheduled to begin February 17. Because of Blake's need to find a new lead attorney, however, Judge Darlene Schempp continued the case until February 23. If the former star of '70s TV police drama "Baretta" can find a new lawyer by then, there is a strong chance she or he will ask for an extended continuance to catch up.

There is a lot to catch up on.

Blake is accused of shooting and killing his 44-year-old wife, Bakley, outside a Studio City restaurant on May 4, 2001. Police believe Blake ditched the murder weapon in a garbage bin and made up a story about his wife having been shot while he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he left behind.

With no physical evidence tying Blake to the Bakley's death, prosecutors will rely on Blake's ill feelings toward his wife and the testimony of two former stuntmen who say Blake first tried to recruit them to do the killing.

Blake denies the charges and the stuntmen's allegations. Both of his previous lawyers said they would show that Blake's accusers have motives for lying.

Prosecutor Shellie Samuels, according to reports, told Schempp that her office is ready to go to trial and expressed concern about the possibility of a lengthy delay. Prosecutors have no statutory right to a speedy trial and Samuels did not attend the in-chambers conference where Mesereau apparently aired his dirty, attorney-client laundry.

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