updated 2/15/2005 2:15:50 PM ET 2005-02-15T19:15:50

Guest: Ron Richards, Robert Saunooke, Michael Molfetta, Michael Wise, Mathew Staver, Lynne Gold-Bikin

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up in a tell-all book, former baseball star Jose Canseco details his use of steroids and says he wasn‘t the only player shooting up.  He‘s naming names. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  Canseco calls our national pastime—quote—

“juiced” and claims he used steroids with Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and other baseball greats, personally and illegally injecting them with the drug.  So, will they sue and why might they want to avoid taking Canseco to court?  Canseco‘s attorney joins us. 

Plus, it reads more like a Hollywood party list than a witness list.  Attorneys in the Michael Jackson case say they want to call Elizabeth Taylor, Jay Leno, and even Kobe Bryant to the stand.  What could Kobe Bryant possibly say to help Jackson? 

And the six-carat diamond ring Ben Affleck gave Jennifer Lopez is back on the market.  It‘s Valentine‘s Day, and our I‘ve got “Just One Question?” segment will focus on love and marriage and breakups like legally, who gets the ring? 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket tonight:  Do “Backstreet” boy Nick Carter, CBS correspondent Ed Bradley and paranormalist Uri Geller have anything to add to the Michael Jackson case?  Well, they could be called to testify during his trial.  Jackson back in court today as the lawyers try to choose the jurors who will decide his fate.  And while doing that, both sides revealed their closely guarded witness list. 

The defense list sounded more like an invite list for a lavish Hollywood party than a witness list for a child molestation trial.  Talk show hosts Larry King, Jay Leno, and Maury Povich, entertainers Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder, actor Chris Tucker and actress Elizabeth Taylor, and NBA star Kobe Bryant.  That‘s just a handful of potential defense witnesses. 

So, what could these stars possibly say about these allegations against Jackson?  And will they ever really take the stand?  “My Take”—apart from anyone who was at Neverland during the time in question, I don‘t expect we‘re going to see any of these stars taking the witness stand—

Kobe Bryant? 

Joining me now is NBC‘s Mike Taibbi—he was in the courtroom today—and criminal defense attorney and NBC legal analyst Ron Richards, who has worked with Jackson‘s attorney, Tom Mesereau in the past.  All right, let‘s go through some of these witnesses and I want to figure out why they might be called to the witness stand.  First of all, Mike, idea what Kobe Bryant might be able to say? 

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you know, I have no idea about that, Dan, except that he might have something to say about what it‘s like to be a high-profile person charged in a case where he, the defendant, insists that he was never guilty in the first place and that it was just a trumped-up charge because he was a celebrity. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

TAIBBI:  But it would be irresponsible for me to really speculate...

ABRAMS:  No, but you know what...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... that was my first reaction, too.  Ron Richards, look, you

have the inside scoop on this defense team.  Are they really going to try -

·         I mean if that‘s the reason, there‘s no way they would let him take the stand. 

RONALD RICHARDS, NBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Well they‘re putting on an extensive character defense, I believe, and famous people have famous friends, so it‘s quite understandable that some of these character witnesses are going to be famous. 

ABRAMS:  Are Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson good friends? 

RICHARDS:  I couldn‘t confirm that, and I don‘t think I could confirm that at this time.  The Laker publicist couldn‘t confirm it.  I couldn‘t confirm it from Kobe Bryant‘s agent, both who I spoke with this afternoon. 

ABRAMS:  All right, what about Elizabeth Taylor?  There we know that there‘s a longtime friendship, Ron.  What, she‘s going to be called to say he‘s a great guy, he‘s a great guy, I couldn‘t see him doing this? 

RICHARDS:  Well, look, you know, Dan, it‘s a show up there, and to have famous celebrities coming to the courtroom as part of a character defense and say, look, I would trust Michael Jackson with my own flesh and blood, that‘s powerful evidence, because these are famous, well-respected people, and that‘s who his friends are.  He can‘t it his friends are famous. 

ABRAMS:  Are they really going to let—the judge is going to just let in a whole series, the witnesses are going to say oh great guy, great guy, I could never see him doing it? 

RICHARDS:  Well no, that would be...

ABRAMS:  Right.

RICHARDS:  But the judge is going to let some witnesses take the stand and say that I‘ve interacted with him on a personal level and he‘s a person that you can trust...

ABRAMS:  No they won‘t.  Unless he takes the witness, they will not.  This judge will not just let in witnesses to come forward and say he‘s a trustworthy guy unless the defense team puts Jackson‘s character at issue.  Do you disagree with that? 

RICHARDS:  I disagree that the defendant has to testify in order to put on a character defense. 

ABRAMS:  So they‘re going to put on a defense that Michael Jackson—come on.  Then you‘re guaranteeing that every allegation against Michael Jackson is going to come in, in this case, everything from ‘93 to ‘90 -- you name it. 

RICHARDS:  Well not if you limit the character evidence, the stuff within the last couple years...

ABRAMS:  Yes, that would be nice for the defense, yes.

RICHARDS:  And I think that also that some of these allegations are going to come in against Michael Jackson and so the defense is going to have to counter that and let the jury decide what defense is more credible. 

ABRAMS:  Mike, what about the talk show hosts?  We got Jay Leno, Ed Bradley, Larry King. 

TAIBBI:  Well, I wouldn‘t call Ed Bradley a talk show host...

ABRAMS:  That‘s true...

TAIBBI:  ... I bet he wouldn‘t like you to call him...

ABRAMS:  That‘s fair.

TAIBBI:  ... he‘s a “60 Minutes” correspondent...

ABRAMS:  ... important...

TAIBBI:  ... interviewed—he actually saw the accuser in this case.  Larry King, of course, interviewed Corey Feldman, who was in the news last week for reasons I‘m not quite certain I understand, but saying that he perhaps changed his tune about his recollections about his long-ago experiences with Michael Jackson.  Some of these so-called celebrity witnesses on the prospective witness list, Dan—we have to remember it‘s only a prospective list of 369 names, may be used to impeach witnesses brought by the defense if, for example, they knew anybody who spent time with the accuser and the accuser siblings at Neverland. 

They were there, don‘t forget, from May of the year 2000 until February, March of 2003, so that was a long time that they were when many other of these so-called celebrities were in touch both with Michael Jackson and perhaps with people at Neverland who were in touch with the family as well, so they may be impeachment witnesses.  But Dan, here‘s the important point. 

I think the key names on the list are ones that nobody is going to talk about.  The celebrities get the attention.  But they are, for example, two investigators for Santa Barbara County who were taken off the Michael Jackson case when they found that there was no reason to go forward criminally on it and were reassigned.  One now works for another local police department.

And eight members of the accuser‘s family, including two names who have a story to tell, according to sources that I have, about the motivations of the family in going forward with this case.  That‘s what I think is going to be the key collection of names on this list of 369 prospective witnesses. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and that‘s what we would have—we would expect an attack certainly on this family.  But...

TAIBBI:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  ... I‘m still trying to figure out, again, Ron, why some of these witnesses even might be relevant in this case.  How about Diana Ross, Ron? 

RICHARDS:  Well, they‘re relevant, Dan, because this is a case about Michael Jackson, and can he be trusted with people that stayed at his house.  It‘s very important for the defense to show that he‘s interacted with millions of people and thousands and thousands of children and by having famous people come to court and say, look, I‘ve interacted him on all sorts of levels, all sorts of times of the day, and he could be trusted, that‘s powerful evidence.  And I don‘t think you can diminish that evidence simply by saying that he—that these are famous people.  I think it‘s important. 

ABRAMS:  Well I‘ll diminish it this way.  I‘ll tell you that I predict that the vast majority of people we are seeing on this list will never be seen in that courtroom.  Disagree with me?

TAIBBI:  I agree with you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Ron?

RICHARDS:  I agree with you, Dan, because most of those people aren‘t even under subpoena yet, like Macaulay Culkin, but I still think it‘s important that if you‘re going to put them in the courtroom...

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARDS:  ... if there‘s a chance, you have to put them on the witness list, otherwise you will be precluded...

ABRAMS:  Yes, Prince Michael is on the list, too, his own son.  What about Stevie Wonder?  I mean you know apart from—I don‘t want to sort of focus on what he—you know, obviously his limitations, but the bottom line is Stevie Wonder is going to offer testimony, as well, Ron, same sort of thing? 

RICHARDS:  I don‘t have any information on him.  But, you know, maybe Jimmy Hoffa‘s on the list too.  I mean, Tom Mesereau has been known to do very unique defenses, and I think you‘re going to find a unique defense in this case and it‘s a different type of case.  I mean this is Michael Jackson on trial, not just your average alleged child molester. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  I don‘t know.  This—I just—I don‘t know what—I mean I get it.  I mean I know what they‘re doing here.  They want to throw down everybody who might be called.  But I don‘t know.  Seems a little silly to me on some of this. 

But, all right, let me ask Mike Taibbi—let me move on to jury selection today.  Mike, first day where the lawyers get to question prospective jurors.  What happened? 

TAIBBI:  Right.  Well I think what happened is each side, both the defense through Tom Mesereau, the lead defense counsel, and the prosecution through Ron Zonan was a deputy prosecutor in this case, signaled how they‘re going to frame this case very, very clearly.  You had Tom Mesereau saying to every juror that—questioning every juror about what role they think the media plays and at one point, there was an exchange where he said to a prospective juror, have you ever seen a very powerful media report which you thought was very revealing only to find out later that it was not true or wholly true? 

And she said, yes, I have.  A point Mesereau wanted to drive home.  And all the exchanges about whether or not a child witness can be credible, attacking the notion that a child is always believable.  You know the “believe the child thing”—that the accuser and his brother, his younger brother could, in fact, get on the stand under oath and lie.  In response to that, Ron Zonan questioned each prospective juror by saying do you think it‘s  more or less likely that a child, a 14 or 15-year-old child because he‘s going to hang his case on the accuser and his brother in this instance, is more or less likely to lie on the stand than would an adult...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TAIBBI:  ... and the jurors were left to think about that.  So I think that‘s the key thing, is that we‘re seeing what the shape of the case is going to be like. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, fair point.  All right, Ron Richards, Mike Taibbi, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

RICHARDS:  Thanks, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Jose Canseco has become one of the poster boys for steroid abuse in baseball.  Now he seems to be taking down some other legends in a new tell-all book.  The question is, are they going to sue and why that might be a bad idea?  We‘ll talk to Canseco‘s attorney.

Plus, the governor of Alaska is already married, but today he and his wife on Valentine‘s Day are entering into a so-called covenant marriage, a kind of legal commitment that makes it a lot harder to get divorced.  But how does it help the marriage to force unhappy people to stay married if their relationship goes sour?  We debate. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Jose Canseco has a new book out, where he admits doing steroids and says he did them with some including Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and other players.  They deny the claim so they will they sue?  I‘m guessing not.  We‘ll see, coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Jose Canseco was once one of the most feared sluggers in baseball, now he‘s apparently one of the most feared tattletales in baseball.  A one-time “Rookie of the Year” and “Most Valuable Player”, Canseco smacked 462 homeruns playing at Oakland, Boston, Texas and four other cities during his career.  The bulked-up Canseco often denied using steroids, but that‘s not what he told “60 Minutes”.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSE CANSECO, AUTHOR, “JUICED”:  I tried to do everything possible to become the best player in the world.  Do I believe steroids and growth hormones helped me achieve that?  Yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And now, Canseco has a new book out accusing a murderer‘s row of sluggers of shooting steroids with him.  Among the big names—former “Most Valuable Player” and homerun champ Mark McGwire, former Texas Ranger, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez, and troubled New York Yankee star Jason Giambi who reportedly admitted using steroids to a grand jury last year.  All denied using steroids with Canseco. 

But that may not be enough to keep their careers, their reputations from being tarnished by his charges.  “My Take”—Canseco has long been considered one of the poster boys for steroid abuse in baseball and given that, he used to deny using steroids and has had legal problems including problems with anger.

So he may not be the most credible person to come out with these allegations, but that doesn‘t mean his allegations can just be dismissed out of hand either.  Major League Baseball avoided dealing with steroids for years, only came out for testing players last year after a federal investigation of a lab tied steroid use to Giambi and others, so I don‘t if the players Canseco named shot steroids with him, but if they didn‘t, I would think that they would probably sue. 

Robert Saunooke is Jose Canseco‘s attorney.  Michael Molfetta is a criminal defense attorney who‘s represented pro athletes and Michael Wise is a sports columnist with “The Washington Post.”  All right, gentlemen thanks very much for coming on the program. 

All right, Mr. Saunooke, let‘s start with this issue of Jose Canseco‘s credibility.  I understand that you‘re considering a lie-detector pay-per-view for Canseco.  True?

ROBERT SAUNOOKE, JOSE CANSECO‘S ATTORNEY:  We have not discussed that totally yet, but yes, that‘s an option that‘s out there if it continues to be an issue for us. 

ABRAMS:  And Canseco is willing to stand by each and every allegation he makes about who he did steroids with, right? 

SAUNOOKE:  One hundred percent correct.

ABRAMS:  Let me read—this is number three here.  I was the godfather of the steroid revolution in baseball, but McGwire was right there with me.  After batting practice or right before the game, Mark and I would duck into a stall in the men‘s room, load up our syringes, and inject ourselves.  I would often inject Mark. 

And then it goes on—let‘s do number four—Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, I injected them.  Absolutely.  Michael Molfetta, do you think we‘re going to see any lawsuits here? 

MICHAEL MOLFETTA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  No, I don‘t think we‘re going to see any lawsuits and it‘s unfortunate.  I think most of these guys, the prudent course of action is going to be to let it die.  You know, the whole thing is kind of ridiculous.  I mean just the whole notion of a pay-per-view, lie-detector test, proves what I think everybody is saying, that this is motivated by a guy that needs some dough and not too much more. 

ABRAMS:  But do you think—I mean the bottom line is it‘s either true or it‘s untrue.  Let me read from Rafael Palmeiro—made a statement.  I categorically deny any assertion by Canseco as I‘ve never had any personal relationship with Canseco.  Any suggestion that he taught me anything about steroid use or otherwise is ludicrous.  We were teammates and that was the extent of our relationship.

You know, it seems to me that if that‘s true, Mr. Molfetta, that he should be suing Jose Canseco. 

MOLFETTA:  Yes, but, I mean, first of all, what are you going to get out of the guy—just the gratification of suing him.  Second of all, you know, why do you want your name dragged through the mud any more?  I mean, listen, I played sports.  I didn‘t play professional sports, but I played college sports, and, you know, steroids are not a recreational drug. 

It‘s not like people sit around and they do them.  And Mr. Canseco himself said that Mark McGwire wasn‘t really a buddy of his, so why McGwire would entrust Canseco with his deepest, darkest professional secret and have Canseco shoot him it just sounds preposterous.  Did he do steroids?  Who knows?  I wasn‘t there.  Nobody else was there but those two supposedly.  But the whole thing doesn‘t ring true, the timing of it‘s true, and the source frankly is not very credible. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Wise, what‘s sort of the sense in the sports community about all of this? 

MICHAEL WISE, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  My sense, Dan, is that all these guys‘ names are besmirched anyway, whether they prove their guilt or innocence.  We all know this is the steroid generation in baseball.  I think Jose Canseco, with all due respect to his attorney on with you, is a liar.  He‘s shown to be a liar in the past, but you still can‘t look past some of these allegations.  And let‘s not shoot the messenger now.  If he‘s right about any of this, I think we have to take a hard look at it. 

ABRAMS:  Mr. Saunooke, what about that? 

SAUNOOKE:  I‘m still amazed at what Jose Canseco has done in the past that makes him less credible now.  I think it‘s a good point.  The message is still clear.  He‘s coming out now.  He‘s being honest.  He‘s being forthright.  And everyone is crucifying him for telling the truth.  And it‘s unfortunate that they can‘t accept that this is what is a part of Major League Baseball.  Baseball has profited by it.  Baseball has taken advantage of it.  And now they need to own up to what the issues are. 

WISE:  Well with all due respect, sir...

(CROSSTALK)

WISE:  I‘m sorry, Dan, but with all due respect, he did deny steroid use throughout his career, and I remember Tom Boswell from my own newspaper here had brought out some accusations and took a huge amount of criticism when he wrote that.  And now it turns out that, you know, he was right and Jose was wrong.  I don‘t think Jose has much credibility. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to take a quick break here.  I‘ll bring you right back in, Michael.  Just give me a minute here...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... take a quick break—more on this in a minute.  More of this book—it‘s pretty explosive. 

Plus, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles have announced their wedding plans, but it seems an old English law could make their wedding illegal.  Our special Valentine‘s Day edition of “Just One Question?” is coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANSECO:  Mark and I weren‘t really in a sense of buddy buddies.  We were more acquaintances than actually anything else.  But there are certain subjects that we could talk about, like obviously steroids and so forth. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Admitted illegal steroid user Jose Canseco telling CBS‘ “60 Minutes” last night how he and former slugger Mark McGwire once found common ground over performance-enhancing drugs.  He‘s named other players as well in his new book “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big”.  All right, so we‘re talking about whether there might be lawsuits involved, how all these players are denying it.

All right, Michael Molfetta, you wanted to get in before the break. 

MOLFETTA:  Well I just wanted to respond to counsel‘s statement that he doesn‘t understand how Mr. Canseco‘s past is going to be relevant.  Look, any jury instruction in any jurisdiction whether it‘s a criminal or a civil case is going to talk about the tryor (ph) facts ability to judge somebody‘s credibility and they look into their past.  They look into their motive, bias, or interest in testifying and Mr. Canseco has a past, which is colorful, which is replete with some dishonesty, especially in this case where he denied it and now he‘s admitting it. 

And let‘s face it, take any player, name a player, Cal Ripken, player that have these great reputations, if they came out and said, look, I saw X, Y, Z, regardless of what it was, steroids or corking or whatever, nobody would say hey, why don‘t you take a lie-detector test.  But everybody thinks that Jose Canseco should.  In fact, he feels he should to validate all this.  In fact, he‘s trying to make some money off of it.  I think it‘s absurd and frankly, I think it‘s bad for the game.  I mean I agree with the message, but I think there better be a better messenger if it‘s going to go far.

ABRAMS:  Mr. Saunooke and then I want to hear from Mr. Wise.

SAUNOOKE:  Well, again, the same question comes out, you know, Jason Giambi is—said he denied that he ever took steroids, and then later on says, yes, I took steroids, but Jason Giambi is now—is he respected because he‘s coming out and telling the truth?  The fact is that for a period of time, it was done behind closed doors, it was promoted, it was assisted, Major League Baseball knew about it, and now the opportunity is here to present it and that‘s exactly what Jose is doing. 

ABRAMS:  And Mr. Wise, isn‘t that—as a broad matter, isn‘t what Mr.

Saunooke just said true? 

WISE:  Well, yes, I mean it is in a broad matter, but I think it‘s immaterial.  I mean using public forum to use some big names to sell your book, if we want to talk about cleaning up the game, if we want to talk about cleaning up steroids in America, take every cent from that book and give it to some high school fund for educating kids about steroids.  People have watched that “60 Minutes” interview last night and they saw Jose Canseco say that steroids works.  Do you know what that does to every kid on the bench that‘s trying to bench-press you know, 150 pounds, trying to go to 200?  I mean that‘s where, you know, that‘s where we need to clean up the game, not some, you know, tell-all book. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, Mr. Saunooke, final word on this.  I got to wrap it up. 

SAUNOOKE:  Again, this is a great book.  It‘s about two chapters that deal with steroids, and that issue.  The rest of it is Jose Canseco‘s life.  It was an interesting life, a colorful life, but it was truthful.  He is telling the truth now, and people need to accept that what he is being now is nothing but honest. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  And for those of you who are writing in and asking whether I use steroids, whether this body is natural, the answer is I promise you this is natural.  Nothing, I swear. 

Robert Saunooke, Michael Molfetta, Michael Wise, thanks a lot. 

Appreciate it. 

SAUNOOKE:  You‘re welcome... 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, some couples in Arkansas, including the governor, want people to commit to so-called covenant marriage relationships that make it a lot harder to get a divorce.  So why do some people need a law to save their failing marriages?  We debate up next. 

And Mary Kay Letourneau announced that she plans to wed her former student and lover.  You can even buy them a present on their online wedding registry.  I‘ve got “Just One Question?” about their nuptials. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up on this special Valentine‘s Day‘s edition, some states seem to think that legislation will help preserve the institution of marriage by making it harder for couples to get a divorce.  States really want to walk down this aisle—first the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Tonight, wedding bells will be ringing again for Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and his wife.  They‘re not getting remarried.  They‘re entering a covenant marriage, a marriage where a couple chooses to make it a lot harder for them to get divorced.  A spouse can seek divorce on just five grounds.  Among them, the other spouse committed adultery, the other spouse is abusive, the other spouse has been committed of a felony, and these are the only grounds for divorce after the couple has gone through extensive counseling. 

And their marriage is believed to be beyond repair and they‘ve got proof.  Sure, nobody gets married with the intent to get divorced, but what if the wife who gets beat up by her husband every night doesn‘t want to sit through hours of counseling?  What if she just wants out? 

“My Take”—at its best this is the legal equivalent of going to Vegas to renew your vows.  It‘s romantic and memorable.  The problem is this is legal.  And if people want to show their love for each other, how committed they are, they should show it by not allowing the various grounds for divorce to occur.  Don‘t beat your wife.  Don‘t commit adultery.  That‘s the way to show your love.

The notion that the law is going to be able to help a failing marriage is just down right silly.  If people are unhappy in their marriage or maybe even just one person is unhappy, being neglected, mistreated, whatever, I‘d rather see that they get divorced than stay in a miserable marriage. 

Joining me now is Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of the Liberty Counsel, and Lynne Gold-Bikin, a former chair of the American Bar Association‘s Family Law section. 

All right, Mr. Staver, what am I getting wrong on this? 

MATHEW STAVER, LIBERTY COUNSEL:  Well I think our marriage laws not only follow our policy, but they shape it and this is a choice that individuals can make.  For example, in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona, you can choose the standard no-fault divorce system or you can voluntarily choose the covenant marriage system.  And those individuals that choose that choose to be bound by that particular law, which makes the seriousness of marriage implicit in the policy. 

No other policy governing partnerships would allow individuals to invest their lives, their time, and their money and then just simply walk away for any reason at any time without any ability to try to reconcile.  The covenant marriage laws in these three states try to impress on people that at the beginning that you have counseling and then if it comes to a point, for example, abuse, abandonment or adultery or a felony, for example, at least some counseling and a waiting period before you dissolve the marriage. 

ABRAMS:  See my concern is that one party‘s going to feel pressured into doing this, and that they‘re going to say all right, all right, you know, OK, we‘ll do the covenant marriage thing as opposed to the other one, and then you‘re stuck, and you‘re stuck in a way that seems completely unnecessary.  I mean, why does the law have to get into the business of making statements?  When you get married, two people should be able to say, this is meaningful.  This means something. 

STAVER:  Well I think it‘s the same thing for any kind of partnership or corporation.  When you form that, there are certain entry and exit strategies, and marriage does mean something, and that‘s why the law should impress upon as a policy matter that it does mean something.  And so, for example, in Louisiana, where it‘s been around for several years, you don‘t have these parades of horrible stories that you suggested may occur in a covenant marriage.  There have been people that have entered into covenant marriages and they‘ve left those covenant marriages and you don‘t see these horror stories that are occurring in these three states. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, I don‘t know.  Ms. Gold-Bikin, look, you deal with these kinds of divorces...

LYNNE GOLD-BIKIN, FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY:  You know...

ABRAMS:  ... every day?  What do you make of this? 

GOLD-BIKIN:  ... I think this is undermining people‘s intelligence.  It is assuming that divorce is easy and anyone who‘s ever gone through a divorce knows it is not easy.  And the other thing is it assumes that when you get married that you have to have the state tell you it‘s serious.  I mean we are not stupid people.  We know that marriage is serious.  And I‘m just wondering if your other guest is in a covenant marriage. 

ABRAMS:  Are you in a covenant marriage, Mr. Staver?  If you want to...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... you don‘t have to answer that if you don‘t want to...

STAVER:  Well I‘m not in a covenant marriage.  I‘m in a state that doesn‘t have a covenant marriage in Florida, although there are efforts in Florida, it‘s a move toward covenant marriage and certainly as soon as that were available, my wife and I would certainly elect that and we have entered into a covenant relationship that‘s not legal, but a covenant vow toward one another. 

GOLD-BIKIN:  But it is legal.  The fact is you‘re married.  It‘s a legal relationship.  You don‘t need the state to say to you that you intend to stay married to this woman.  I think that Governor Huckabee is concerned about the very high divorce rate in Arkansas, as well as he should be.  It is the highest divorcee rate in the country. 

On the other hand, they‘re looking at the wrong end of the animal.  If you want to make a good marriage, you don‘t start when people are unhappy.  There are courses now in high school, the American Bar Association sponsors one, to teach kids about relationships before they make their lifetime choices.  You want to have a good marriage, start early.  You know...

STAVER:  Well...

GOLD-BIKIN:  ... eighth grade, ninth grade, to talk about it.  You don‘t say oh you two are unhappy, too bad, you‘re stuck.  That makes no sense. 

STAVER:  No, I totally agree with you.  You need to start early.  You need to start the educational process early.  One of the things that the covenant marriage states do and some other states that don‘t have covenant marriage also require, some kind of premarital counseling to try to work through some of the issues that you‘ll deal with in marriage...

GOLD-BIKIN:  But even that‘s late.  Even—it‘s you know...

STAVER:  Well certainly...

GOLD-BIKIN:  ... once the invitations are out—look, the Catholic Church has got a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) counseling group, which is wonderful.  It‘s six weeks.  But the fact is these people have already made their commitments.  But you know you can‘t get a license to drive a car...

ABRAMS:  See...

GOLD-BIKIN:  ... without some education.  We don‘t have any education for marriage and it‘s wrong. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ll tell you what my concern is.  My concern is that this is politics.  That‘s my concern.  Let me read from Governor Huckabee‘s statement. 

I can‘t think of a better day than Valentine‘s Day for thousands of Arkansans to come together and celebrate the institution of marriage.  Our divorce rates are alarming.  We need this statewide campaign to save marriages.

So, I don‘t get it.  So Mr. Stave, the state is going to be better off when unhappy people have to stay in their marriages? 

STAVER:  No, I think the state is better off when this policy is put into play and people choose it.  This is not something that is being forced.  You don‘t have a unilateral system...

ABRAMS:  Let‘s talk about it as a public policy matter, though.  Why is the state better off—I mean he‘s talking about the alarming divorce rates, which means a lot of people in Arkansas chose to get divorced.  So, how is—and I‘m not—I think it‘s an alarming divorce rate. 

STAVER:  It is.

ABRAMS:  But why is it that—I mean it‘s something—I mean the truth is that it‘s something like, what is it, one in two in the end? 

GOLD-BIKIN:  It‘s more than one in two in Arkansas...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Yes.

STAVER:  In Arkansas, it‘s about five...

ABRAMS:  Yes, because I don‘t really—I mean I‘ll try and get some clarification on our number there.  We put up 6.5 out of 1,000, but I don‘t think that‘s right...

(CROSSTALK)

GOLD-BIKIN:  ... 6.5 out of 10. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, it‘s 6.5 out of 10...

STAVER:  It‘s very high and Arkansas is about 6.5.  It was about five-point something in Louisiana when they...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

STAVER:  ... enacted their policy.  So those states had serious divorce problems...

GOLD-BIKIN:  Yes, but it didn‘t help...

STAVER:  ... and a number of other states follow that, have tried to do something to curb that.  Now it may not be the perfect solution, but...

GOLD-BIKIN:  It‘s not any solution...

STAVER:  ... at least it‘s an attempt toward a solution...

GOLD-BIKIN:  No, it is not. 

STAVER:  ... and the solution is—I agree with your other guest, yes we need to start early, much early in life.  But also in the covenant marriage, at least it provides an opportunity for a cool down period and some counseling. 

GOLD-BIKIN:  The fact is you can get that without making this additional commitment.  But what you‘re saying is that some marriages are better than other marriages.

ABRAMS:  And...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... why is the law getting—I mean that‘s—what I don‘t get is...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... you know that‘s fine.  If you want to do it through your church or through whoever else, that if you have specific ways that various religious organizations, for example, or social organizations say, you know what, you want to be a part of this organization?  Here‘s how we deal with marriage.  We mandate counseling, et cetera.  Fine.  That‘s great.  But when the law gets involved, Mr. Staver, that‘s what makes me nervous. 

STAVER:  Well the law gets involved in any other kind of partnerships.  The only one that we don‘t have the law involved with very much in terms of the termination is the marital partnership...

GOLD-BIKIN:  Well that‘s nonsense.  What do you think the divorce code is all about?  Every state...

STAVER:  Well the divorce code doesn‘t allow—in most states, you can unilaterally anytime, for any reason, just simply walk away from your life...

GOLD-BIKIN:  Wrong...

STAVER:  ... investment...

GOLD-BIKIN:  That‘s just simply wrong...

STAVER:  ... and covenant marriages simply gives a choice.  You don‘t have to choose it.  And if you don‘t like it, if it‘s not good for you or your partner...

GOLD-BIKIN:  And by the way...

STAVER:  ... don‘t choose it. 

GOLD-BIKIN:  ... most people—yes, but most people aren‘t choosing it.  I mean the fact is they‘ve had it in Louisiana for at least five years.  No more than 600 couples have chosen it.  Many of them have gotten divorced.  The fact is the state doesn‘t belong here.  It‘s one more attempt to put religion into it.  And if you read in the Bible about covenant marriage, it‘s women submit under your—unto your husbands. 

STAVER:  This is absolutely ridiculous...

ABRAMS:  Staver gets final word. 

STAVER:  It‘s absolutely ridiculous to inject religion of this discussion...

GOLD-BIKIN:  That‘s the point. 

STAVER:  This is a social policy of two men—or two people, man and a woman joining together in some kind of attempt to resolve the high divorce rate.  This may not be perfect, but it‘s certainly an attempt to resolve the divorce rate.

ABRAMS:  All right, Mathew Staver, thanks very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  And Lynne Gold-Bikin is going to be with (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Coming up, love in the air, a special Valentine‘s Day edition of “Just One Question?”.  We‘re talking about Mary Kay Letourneau, served more than seven years in prison for having sex with one of her students.  Now they‘ve set a date.  They‘re getting married.  I‘ve got one question. 

Plus the six-carat diamond ring that Ben Affleck gave J.Lo is on the market.  Did she give it back?  Should she have to—breakup etiquette and law up next.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  In honor of Valentine‘s Day today, “Just One Question?” segment is full of stories about marriage, breakups and divorce.  Back with us is family law attorney Lynne Gold-Bikin.

All right, we know Prince Charles and longtime girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles are planning to tie the knot this spring, but some British law historians and family law experts say that according to an old law, members of the royal family are forbidden from taking part in civil marriages in England.  Question:  Is this anything to worry about? 

GOLD-BIKIN:  You know, I can‘t believe that people can‘t let them alone after all this time.  I‘m sure it‘s nothing to worry about.  If it‘s an old law, I have no problem in believing the Parliament will figure out some way to make it go away.  They want these people to get married.  They‘ve been living in sin much too long. 

ABRAMS:  Just like Charles and Camilla, Mary Kay Letourneau and her former student, Vili Fualaau, are getting married this spring.  You can even buy them a KitchenAid mixer off of their online wedding registry. 

GOLD-BIKIN:  Oh boy...

ABRAMS:  Remember Letourneau—yes, it‘s good news—Letourneau spent more than seven years in prison for having sex with Fualaau starting when he was 12.  “Just One Question?”—if he were to get divorced—if they were to get divorced, would her conviction for having sex with him work against her if she wanted custody of the children? 

GOLD-BIKIN:  I‘m sure that if they were to get divorced and they got into a custody fight, they would bring it up.  It would be one factor.  Another factor would be that she wasn‘t there to raise the children when they were little because she was in jail.  Lots and lots of factors, but most courts look at the present circumstance as to who is doing the parenting and whether or not it‘s in the best interest of the child to remain with—so, you know, people throw everything in.  In that mixer, they throw everything, mix it al up and fight over it. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and you can buy that mixer...

GOLD-BIKIN:  That‘s right. 

ABRAMS:  ... online.  All right, the “Bennifer” ring, the six-carat pink diamond Ben Affleck gave to his then fianc’ Jennifer Lopez back on the market at Harry Winston‘s in New York.  It‘s not clear whether Lopez gave the ring back to Affleck, but should she have?  So the question, when a couple breaks up, is the man entitled to get the ring back assuming he paid for it? 

GOLD-BIKIN:  In most states, an engagement ring is a conditional gift.  It‘s given to you on the condition that you get married.  When you‘re divorced—I‘m sorry—if you don‘t get married, right back to the person who bought it. 

ABRAMS:  So, when the woman—let‘s take another—let‘s assume the woman wanted to get married and the guy calls it off and she says, look, this was the deal, I still want to get married, you gave me this ring, and I relied on this ring as an assumption we were getting married, she still has to give it back? 

GOLD-BIKIN:  Back.  Out. 

ABRAMS:  Really. 

GOLD-BIKIN:  The buyer—it‘s a conditional gift.  And it seems unfair.  Look, we‘ve litigated those cases where the guy says I get the ring back, she says no, you don‘t.  In Pennsylvania the Supreme Court has said back. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Lynne, happy Valentine‘s Day to you.

GOLD-BIKIN:  Thanks and to you. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Coming up, one of CNN‘s top news exec resigns after his public statements caused an uproar.  But the problem is, well, no one‘s exactly sure what he said.  It‘s my “Closing Argument.”

And your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a longtime CNN News executive learns the hard way what can happen when you speak off the cuff.  It‘s my “Closing Argument”.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why a prominent news executive is learning the hardest lesson of all about speaking off the cuff, something I know a lot about having had a live talk show every night.  Eason Jordan who ran most of CNN‘s international coverage for almost two decades has stepped down after he apparently made some inflammatory comments at an economic forum in Switzerland.  The counts of exactly what he said varied, but it seems pretty clear Jordan said something about the United States military targeting journalists in Iraq. 

It also seems he tried to clarify his remarks.  When announcing his resignation on Friday, Jordan said that he never—quote—“stated, believed or suspected that U.S. military forces intended to kill people they knew to be journalists.  There‘s a big difference between soldiers killing journalists, which is a fact in the unfortunate reality of a war zone in Iraq, and soldiers deliberately targeting journalists, which is a serious accusation I‘ve seen no evidence to support. 

Any supposedly objective news executive who espouses that theory better have some hard evidence to back it up or expect to face the consequences.  Now since no transcripts or videotape of the event have been released, Jordan stepped down based entirely on varying recollections and reactions.  Recollections that exploded on the Internet among certain bloggers and the conservative media into what one blogger titled Eason Gate”.  One got nearly 2,000 signatures and an online petition demanding that Jordan resign. 

Now that makes me nervous.  What I appreciated about the impact of the bloggers in the Dan Rather‘s National Guard‘s document story was that they‘re reciting fact.  They forced CBS to address evidence that apparently ignored.  This is different.  This is different.  This is blogger editorialists demanding action based on comments that haven‘t been verified. 

Look, more power to those doing the opinion columns.  I do them, too.  But the same way we have to try to distinguish between objective and opinion-based programming, I hope that distinction is apparent with the bloggers as well.  I hope he wasn‘t just ousted based on a poorly phrased sentence that was taken out of context by partisans.  But if he said that U.S. forces are targeting journalists, he dug his own grave.  In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—quote—“I cannot say one thing and mean another.”

Coming up in 60 seconds, some advice on what not to do when serving on a jury.  It‘s tonight‘s “OH PLEAs!”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  On Friday we discussed the proposed law in Washington State that would allow parents to listen to their children‘s phone conversations at their home.  This after the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that teens have a right to privacy in their own homes.  And parents who listen to their kids phone conversations are violating that privacy. 

I said it‘s the parent‘ home and in that home, children don‘t have the sorts of rights and protections afforded to everyone else.  From Aurora, Colorado, Jo Lynn Siedelmann.  “As a parent, I am responsible for any criminal actions my child may commit, but I can‘t listen in on her phone conversations?”

Jim and Kim Haskett.  “I have the right to know what my child is doing and will continue to monitor what they‘re doing until someone else assumes the responsibility for the results of their actions.”

Stuart Stuebing, “Why are parents not allowed to listen to their children‘s phone calls in Washington State, but when the parents go to work, they can be listened to at work and on the job?”

Brad in Scottsdale, Arizona sympathizes with the kids.  He writes, “Consider how a child living in fear of their parents eavesdropping on their conversations will feel towards the constitutional protection of free speech. If the parents cannot stop the child from using the phone they pay for, then listening in is no more than entrapment.”

Well first of all, Brad, entrapment applies when it‘s the government doing the entrapping.  And I guess what you‘re suggesting is that parents would only have phones in their home in order to entrap their kids?  Furthermore, no one is taking away the kid‘s right to free speech. 

Depending on what they say, there may be a price to pay. 

Finally, Mary Ann Hemmingson in Tempe, Arizona.  It‘s my favorite e-mail today.  “I don‘t want to eavesdrop on my 14-year-old daughter‘s conversation.  I learned my lesson the hard way when I accidentally picked up the phone when she was on it.  I overheard her say you don‘t want to do the project at my house between 4:00 and 5:00 because my mom watches some freaky guy named Dan Abrams.”

Mary Ann‘s daughter, are you watching?  Freaky guy?  Come on.  Give mom a little credit. 

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show. 

“OH PLEAs!”—what not to do during jury deliberations assuming you‘re a juror, OK.  Talking about the trial of Mark Ellis, accused of robbing a convenience store in Columbus, Ohio.  Although Ellis never had a gun, prosecutors charged him with robbery, claiming they—the clerk felt threatened.  So the question for the jury was, did Ellis commit robbery, a felony, or theft, which is a misdemeanor? 

Now, they ended deliberations for the day.  One juror decided to conduct his own investigation, playing cops and robbers.  The juror entered a convenience store and demanded the clerk hand over all his money.  He then quickly retracted the demand with the reassuring words, this is just a test.  The juror just wanted to know if the clerk was frightened. 

When the deliberations began again—because remember, that was one of the elements of the crime—when the deliberations began again the next day, the juror was happy to report with experimental certainty that a clerk would be frightened even without a gun being present.  The juror‘s reenactment caused the judge to declare a mistrial.  I guess this judge should have added one more warning when dismissing the jury for the night, something like the defendant is on trial for a crime.  Do not try this at home. 

That does it for us tonight.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Thanks for watching.  Have a happy Valentine‘s Day.  See you tomorrow.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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