updated 5/19/2005 10:51:49 AM ET 2005-05-19T14:51:49

Guest:  Michael Cardoza, Jonna Spilbor, Susan Filan, Ben Wolfinger, Shelby Lin, Seth Stern

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, new developments in the search for a missing brother and sister in Idaho.  Authorities track down a person of interest they hope can tell them where the children are and what happened to their mother, brother, and another man found murdered in their home.   

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  And as jurors hear graphic testimony about what Jackson‘s accuser and his brother did in bed at Neverland, are Jackson‘s attorneys prepping him to take the stand?  How do you prepare Michael Jackson to testify? 

Plus, senators clash over the president‘s nominees for the bench.  Rather than just have the usual right-left debate, we lay out exactly what these judges have said that has made some believe they are so controversial. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  First up on the docket, has Michael Jackson hired a coach to help him prepare to testify in his own defense?  CBS News and others reporting that Jackson may be practicing his testimony with an expert.  And now, the rumors are rampant in Santa Maria.  And we learned today that Jackson‘s defense could rest as early as next week. 

Before we get to some of the graphic testimony from today, is Michael Jackson prepping to testify?  “My Take”—I‘ve got to believe whether he actually testifies or not, they are going to have him go through a mock cross-examination, even if they just want to convince him that maybe he doesn‘t want to testify.  In almost every one of these cases, the defendant is convinced he or she can help the cause by testifying.  Sometimes a verbal spanking can show them the road to avoid prison means keeping quiet. 

My legal team, NBC‘s Mike Taibbi outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, MSNBC legal analyst and former Connecticut prosecutor Susan Filan—she‘s also at the courthouse—NBC News analyst, criminal defense attorney Michael Cardoza, who actually did a mock cross-examination of Scott Peterson, and criminal defense attorney Jonna Spilbor. 

All right.  Before I go to Mike on this, Michael, let me just ask you, look, we don‘t know for certain what‘s going on.  My guess is the defense team is going to deny it.  They always do in these cases; they never want to say yes, I‘ve hired someone to help prep my client, et cetera.  I know you can‘t talk about details of cross-examining Scott Peterson, but speak to us generally.  If someone like you is hired or brought in for whatever reason to cross-examine, coach, do whatever, what do you think the point is of having the lawyer do that?

MICHAEL CARDOZA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  I think you were right on, Dan.  I mean it‘s to oftentimes talk your client out of testifying.  Often times they are their own worst enemy.  In this case, it appears to most that Jackson‘s ahead, so why put him on the stand and subject him to cross-examination? 

When I did Scott Peterson, they brought me in to cross Scott Peterson.  I did exactly that and it was a fairly grueling cross-examination.  I didn‘t tell him what he should say.  I didn‘t criticize him after.  That was up to his attorneys in that case, and I‘m sure that‘s what they are doing here. 

They‘ll get some criminal defense attorneys, they‘ll bring them in, they will do mock cross-examination hour after hour after hour, and oftentimes the defense team will stop and say, you know, we‘re not going to change your answer, but you certainly can change the way you were imparting that or saying...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CARDOZA:  ... that answering that particular question. 

ABRAMS:  Michael, you think that...

CARDOZA:  And that‘s what they do.

ABRAMS:  You think that grueling cross-examination that you gave to Scott Peterson was a factor in him not testifying?

CARDOZA:  You know, I really don‘t know, Dan.  You‘d have to ask Geragos and Harris that.  I don‘t...

ABRAMS:  You know my position.  I don‘t think he was ever planning to testify. 

CARDOZA:  Well...

ABRAMS:  That‘s for another day...

CARDOZA:  ... you may be right. 

ABRAMS:  ... another day, another day.  All right, Mike Taibbi, I‘m assuming that as far as you‘re hearing out there, I assume the defense team official position is not happening. 

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I just got off the phone, Dan, with a defense source, and when I put the question to him, because don‘t forget the story was very specific, that an attorney has been brought in already to begin his coaching.  His answer was a one-word answer to the digestive issue of a male grazing animal, just not happening, said hasn‘t happened to this point.  Of course, every witness, most witnesses who testify and prep, every witness who‘s also a defendant who‘s going to testify on his own behalf has to be prepped very significantly, as Mr.  Cardoza has just said. 

But in this instance, a defense source who would know, says no one has been brought in yet.  And the name we heard was somebody we checked out, someone with a long litigation history with Tom Sneddon, the district attorney, is not a likely choice given everything we know about this individual and his history with Tom Sneddon.

ABRAMS:  But Jonna Spilbor, I‘ve got to believe look, you know, they may be parsing words here, saying haven‘t been brought in yet, maybe that means haven‘t flown into Santa Maria yet or whatever the case, but I‘ve got to believe it‘s just smart lawyering to get someone in there to do a mock cross-examination of Michael Jackson, or if he‘s going to testify, certainly you might even want someone outside of the legal team to come in and say look, I‘m an objective observer here, because I think sometimes there‘s that relationship there between the client and the lawyer with a client saying look, I know, I know, I know, and the lawyer wants to bring in someone else to say maybe you don‘t know.

JONNA SPILBOR, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  That‘s true and I‘m surprised that they haven‘t done it already, Dan.  Because what they really need to bring in is somebody who would be able to through Michael Jackson bring out the true colors in Tom Sneddon.  We—I don‘t care at this point what Michael Jackson has to say, but I would love for the jurors to get a real taste of how Tom Sneddon feels about Michael Jackson.  There‘s no better way to do that than to have Tom Sneddon questioning him on the stand. 

ABRAMS:  Because I think the problem is—and let‘s put up—get number three ready here—the problem is so far, Michael Jackson has had the opportunity to make statements.  Meaning, he did one interview, but he wasn‘t really allowed to talk about the facts, et cetera.  This is kind of the stuff that he‘s been saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL JACKSON, ACCUSED OF MOLESTATION:  Years ago, I allowed a family to visit and spend some time at Neverland.  Neverland is my home.  I allowed this family into my home, because they told me their son was ill with cancer and needed my help.  Through the years, I have helped thousands of children who were ill or in distress.  These events have caused a nightmare for my family, my children, and me.  I never intend to place myself in so vulnerable a position ever again.  I love my community and I have great faith in our justice system.  Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court.  I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen.  I will be acquitted, and vindicated when the truth is told. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Susan, it‘s just not that easy when you‘re testifying, right? 

You don‘t get to sort of make speeches? 

SUSAN FILAN, FORMER CONNECTICUT STATE PROSECUTOR:  Absolutely not.  But my sources close to the prosecution, it‘s unconfirmed that it isn‘t going to be District Attorney Sneddon that‘s going to do the cross-examination.  It‘s going to be Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen, who has a very sharp sword when it comes to cross-exam.  He‘s perhaps the best they‘ve got. 

He is terrific.  So if Michael Jackson is going to take the witness stand, he absolutely has to be prepared by somebody outside of his team and they have to go for style and substance and by that I mean somebody who knows how to get back at Zonen‘s questions and somebody who knows how to handle the difficulty in this case, which is that he does sleep with boys. 

ABRAMS:  And I assume one of the reasons you‘d want someone outside of the team to do this mock cross-examination is because it can get ugly.  I mean the bottom line is I‘ll bet when Michael Cardoza was cross-examining Scott Peterson, it‘s not exactly like Scott Peterson, Michael, probably wanted to go out for a beer with you when you were done. 

CARDOZA:  No, I‘ll tell you what—I‘ll tell you this.  When I walked in and I told Geragos and Harris before, I don‘t want to meet him.  I don‘t want to shake his hand.  I don‘t want to talk to him before or after.  I come in as an ex prosecutor.  I ask my questions.  I get up and I leave.  You don‘t object to anything that I ask, unless you think I‘m really delving into something that will hurt your case or you don‘t want me to know.

Otherwise, sit there and be quiet and let me do my job as an ex prosecutor.  Keep this in mind too, Dan.  You know if I were defending Michael Jackson here, not only would I have already brought a number of ex prosecutors, maybe some defense attorneys in to cross-examine Michael, but I also would have hired some mock jurors...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CARDOZA:  ... to sit and watch to ask them what did you think of that? 

How did he respond to that?

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CARDOZA:  Viscerally, how did that affect you?  So you want normal, every day people too, not just lawyers giving their two cents in the case...

ABRAMS:  Yes, I think that‘s a good point.  All right, let‘s get to today‘s testimony.  Mike Taibbi.  His name is Rio, and he was testifying on the stand.  What‘s—what happened today? 

TAIBBI:  Rio Jackson is his name, 12 years old, cute as a button I suppose would be a fair characterization of him.  Jurors were smiling at him, and he told a story that was an ugly story.  He said that he had walked in at one point sharing a guest unit with the accuser and the accuser‘s brother...

ABRAMS:  All right, Mike, before you go on...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... let me just tell people and I want to do this because I just want to give a warning before you do this.  This is going to be pretty graphic stuff, and so you know anyone you got the kids around, et cetera, you want to leave, you should probably do it now, because this gets graphic, but it‘s very central to the case.  I‘m sorry Mike.  Go ahead.

TAIBBI:  Right.  Actually, I de-graphic it for you anyway, Dan.  Well what he said was that he walked in, and they, meaning the two boys, turned on the TV and turned to a channel with naked girls, then they did the nasty stuff and described what the nasty stuff was, a sex act, and asked him if he wanted to do it with them, and he said no, that‘s just too nasty, and went back, eventually went back to Michael Jackson, his cousin‘s bedroom, and spent the rest of the night there.  But this is direct testimony from someone who claims that these two boys who said they knew nothing about sex or about booze or about pornography until they were with Michael Jackson, and only did so when they were in Michael Jackson‘s presence, saying that these two boys were doing it.  They were doing it on their own without Jackson present and were watching this stuff.

Now, I have to tell you that Rio Jackson, as cute as he was and as sympathetic as he was, also talked about catching the boys taking some wine that had been delivered to Michael Jackson‘s bedroom and allegedly drinking some of that.  And Jackson, Rio Jackson, said that when he told Michael Jackson about it, he didn‘t do anything.  He didn‘t say that‘s wrong.  He didn‘t go down and talk to the boys.  He didn‘t express any objection whatsoever to the notion that the accuser...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TAIBBI:  ... and his younger brother...

ABRAMS:  But Susan, this is in direct contradiction to what they testified to on the witness stand, and their testimony is crucial.  I mean if you believe the accuser and you believe his brother, Michael Jackson is in huge trouble.  If you don‘t, the prosecution is in huge trouble.

TAIBBI:  Well, Rio Jackson was cute.  He was adorable, but he did get tripped up in his story, and it did raise a credibility issue for me.  He testified about what he did after he caught them doing something nasty, and originally he said he went to his sister, and his sister said to go to Michael Jackson‘s room, and then he said he went straight to Michael Jackson‘s room and not to his sister‘s room and Ron Zonen going at him and at him, and he started dabbing his eyes. 

To prove your point, Dan, the cross-exam can get ugly and it did hurt him a little bit.  It did—I think it did take a dip at his credibility.  The other thing is I think something backfired for the defense today, when he was able to say that Michael Jackson ordered wine, and it was delivered to the room, and Jackson happened to be in the bathroom when it was delivered, but the three boys were in the room, Rio and the two—the accuser and his brother, and that wine went upstairs to the second floor, so that completely negates the claim that Jackson doesn‘t drink and that he was never in a room with booze and boys.  So as cute as Rio was, he hurt, he hurt the defense today. 

ABRAMS:  Jonna, what do you make of that? 

SPILBOR:   It sounds like Ron Zonen first was kicking a puppy and I don‘t think that‘s going to go against Rio who was on the stand.  I think it‘s going to act—go against Ron Zonen...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  What about the...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Wait.  What about the...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... substantive point?

FILAN:  ... he did not kick a puppy. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  What about the substantive point she has made, which is that this kid who was coming in to testify for the defense with the last name of Jackson is saying I saw Michael Jackson in a room with boys and with liquor?

SPILBOR:   Dan, it doesn‘t—it‘s not illegal to have liquor delivered to your house.  Unless you saw Michael Jackson do what they claim in the indictment, that he was plying these kids with wine, it really is neither here nor there.  He‘s an adult.  He‘s allowed to drink and he‘s allowed to lie about drink and as well as his plastic surgery—to me that‘s going to be lost on the jury.  They‘re not going to care.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know. 

(CROSSTALK)

FILAN:  Rio also testified that he slept in bed with Michael and had for years, and sometimes he was alone in the bed with Michael, his own cousin...

ABRAMS:  But he said...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But he said nothing happened, though, right?  I mean because Susan, the defense...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... the defense is going to concede Michael Jackson slept in bed with boys, period.  But they are going to say he slept in bed with boys and nothing happened. 

FILAN:  OK, Dan.  You‘re a juror on this case.  Are you buying it? 

ABRAMS:  Say it again.

FILAN:  You‘re a juror on this case, let‘s say.  Are you buying it? 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Look...

FILAN:  I mean come on Dan...

ABRAMS:  Look, it‘s a fact that he slept in bed with some boys and nothing happened, right?  Would you agree to that? 

FILAN:  No, I can‘t say that nothing happened. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Dan...

FILAN:  I would say that‘s the central question to this case. 

ABRAMS:  No, but...

FILAN:  That‘s the question. 

ABRAMS:  No, wait.  Wait.  I don‘t think there‘s any question.  I don‘t think the prosecutors, I don‘t think anyone, and let me ask Mike Taibbi this.  Mike, would anyone challenge the notion that there were some boys, some, who slept in bed with Michael Jackson and nothing happened? 

TAIBBI:  I think there‘s not a question about that.  Don‘t forget the testimony is that he slept with boys, individual boys on hundreds of nights.  Sources tell us it may be thousands of nights, and certainly there‘s not an allegation or apparent belief by anybody that he molested every kid...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TAIBBI:  ... every one of those nights.  So I mean...

ABRAMS:  Right.

TAIBBI:  ... that‘s right, that‘s a given. 

ABRAMS:  All right...

TAIBBI:  But I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the question is does he sometimes...

ABRAMS:  No...

TAIBBI:  ... molest some of these boys? 

ABRAMS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Just because...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... you don‘t do it sometimes doesn‘t mean that you‘re somehow innocent. 

ABRAMS:  Michael Cardoza, final thought. 

CARDOZA:  Yes, Dan.  You know what?  They may be able to prove in this case, and I‘ve also thought Sneddon may have realized he had a pretty weak case here, but one thing he set out to do was to prove that Michael Jackson‘s a pedophile.  Now in some people‘s mind he may well have done that, but notwithstanding that, the jury still has to come back to the core issue.  Did he do this little boy in this case?  Did he molest this little boy? 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CARDOZA:  That‘s the only question...

(CROSSTALK)

CARDOZA:  ... and I‘ll tell you, I‘m not sure the jury is going to believe that. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m not sure either.  I‘m not sure either.  All right.  Mike Taibbi, Susan Filan, and Michael Cardoza and Jonna Spilbor, thanks.  His name was Rio.  I mean you know that “Duran Duran” song. 

All right.  Authorities are looking for two missing kids after their brother, mother, and fianc’ killed.  There are some new developments in the case.  We‘re going to talk to the lead investigator, coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with two horrible murder stories.  One in Idaho, the other in North Carolina.  Let‘s start in Idaho.  New developments in the Coeur d‘Alene triple homicide.  An Amber Alert.  Police have located a person of interest that they were looking for.  Robert Roy Lutner called authorities after seeing media reports of the search for him. 

He was apparently seen at the residence on Sunday night.  The blood-spattered residence, where police found the bodies of Brenda Groene, her 13-year-old son Slade, and Brenda‘s neighbor Mark McKenzie.  Now an Amber Alert has been issued for two other children who lived in the home, 8-year-old Shasta Groene and her 9-year-old brother Dylan.

Joining me now with the latest on the investigation is Captain Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff‘s Department.  Captain, thanks for coming back on the program.  We appreciate it.  So...

CAPT. BEN WOLFINGER, KOOTENAI CTY SHERIFF‘S DEPT.:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  ... this guy got in touch with you.  Tell us what happened.

WOLFINGER:  I‘m sorry.  I can‘t hear you.  It‘s raining really hard here right now. 

ABRAMS:  I can see that in the background.  I was asking you about the person of interest who you had put his picture out there, et cetera.  He has apparently contacted your office? 

WOLFINGER:  Yes, we‘ve had contact with Mr. Lutner.  About half an hour ago, our investigators were making arrangements to interview Mr.  Lutner and that‘s all we have at this point.  As soon as they are done with the interview, we hope to have a little bit more information.

ABRAMS:  What made him a—quote—“person of interest?”  I mean he was seen at the house?

WOLFINGER:  Yes, he was seen at the house Sunday evening, and that‘s the last time that we know that anybody at the house was there and was alive and out and about.  We‘re hoping that if he has no involvement with it, that he may have seen somebody at the residence, he may—someone else may have been at the house when he left, or he may have recognized somebody coming to the residence as he was leaving. 

ABRAMS:  How do you know...

WOLFINGER:  The first—go ahead.

ABRAMS:  I apologize for interrupting you Captain.  How do you know that he was there? 

WOLFINGER:  Well, I don‘t know the details, but I know our investigators were able to put him at the house Sunday evening.

ABRAMS:  Did he have any kind of relationship with the family? 

WOLFINGER:  He was a friend of the family.  That we do know. 

ABRAMS:  Any criminal past? 

WOLFINGER:  He does have some criminal past.  Some minor traffic misdemeanor drug charges and some—a fraud charge that he was convicted of.

ABRAMS:  But and let‘s be clear, and I think it‘s important to be clear, because you all have been very clear about this—he‘s not a suspect, and at this point you‘re saying that look, you hope he can provide some information about what happened to those lovely two children, right?

WOLFINGER:  Absolutely.  He‘s not a suspect.  He‘s just a...

(AUDIO GAP)

ABRAMS:  All right, I think we lost the captain there.  Let me do this.  Look, the reason that the captain spends the time—see it‘s pouring rain out there—the guy is a busy man.  He‘s coming on this program, so we do this.  So we put up this number to remind you, if you have any information, these two kids are missing, all right.  They lived in that house.  Their mother has been killed, their older brother and someone else in that house, but these two are missing -- 208-446-2292, 208-446-2293.

Those are the numbers.  And I think we have Captain—we have the captain back.  Final question Captain, are you hopeful?  Do you have any other leads that you‘re following up on this case? 

WOLFINGER:  Not at this time.  We‘re still taking numbers or messages from the tip lines.  Any leads are good leads right now.  We‘ve got a crew of people still answering those calls and investigators to follow up on all of that.

ABRAMS:  Because this was a gruesome crime scene, was it not? 

WOLFINGER:  Well, yes.  There was—any time you have three dead bodies—any time have you three people killed, traumatic injuries, yes, it‘s a pretty gruesome scene. 

ABRAMS:  They were bound as well? 

WOLFINGER:  Yes, they were.  They were bound. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.  All right.  Captain, thanks.  I know it‘s pouring rain out there.  I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the program.  We‘ll put up the pictures again, because I know that‘s why you‘re here. 

Let‘s do it again.

WOLFINGER:  Absolutely.  That‘s our goal.

ABRAMS:  I know.  Captain...

WOLFINGER:  ... find those kids.

ABRAMS:  Thank you so much, Captain.  We‘re going to try and help, 208-446-2292, 208-446-2293.  Those pictures taken earlier in the school year, 8 and 9 years old.  If you know anything, please give them a call. 

All right.  Another gruesome murder, this one in North Carolina.  This story, I mean this one really is hard to believe because we know some of the facts in this one.  A teenager from an affluent neighborhood in Chapel Hill has apparently, according to the authorities, confessed to murdering his parents, then keeping their bodies in the house for two weeks.  Authorities say he even attended his school prom and classes after he allegedly killed his parents. 

Police found 16-year-old Adam Sapikowski at a hotel Saturday, brought him back to the house.  They say he confessed there to the murders and the he used his family‘s shotgun to kill his parents, James and Alison Sapikowski.  He was in court yesterday.  He‘s being charged with two counts of first-degree murder. 

Shelby Lin is a reporter for WSJS radio in North Carolina.  She joins me now by the phone.  Shelby thanks for coming on the program.  So they say that he has confessed to all of this.  Did he explain, according to the authorities, why he went to the prom and kept the bodies in the house?

SHELBY LIN, WSJS RADIO REPORTER (via phone):  Dan, at this point, if he has said anything to the police about that, a motive, we are not aware of that.  What—we know that he confessed.  We know that as—even on Saturday afternoon, we know that he continued to tell police that his parents were in El Paso, Texas, so then finally after obviously finding the bodies and having him in custody Saturday, he did confess. 

But even when they were driving to the home from the Durham motel they picked him up at, he was still maintaining that his parents were away on a vacation, so there is no motive at this point that we‘re aware of.  We know that Monday, during his first court appearance, the judge told him not to talk.  He does have a court-appointed attorney.  So for a motive, we are at a loss at this point.

ABRAMS:  The judge told him not to talk or told him he has a right not to speak? 

LIN:  Well no, after he appointed a public defender for Sapikowski, he suggested that he really shouldn‘t talk to the case.  Now, whether that means talk to relatives, talk to friends, talk to the media.  You know how you can call into prisons and do interviews...

ABRAMS:  Wait.  I‘m sorry.  The lawyer told him to do this or the judge told him to do this. 

LIN:  The judge told him...

ABRAMS:  Really?

LIN:  ... that he would be wise not to talk...

ABRAMS:  Really? 

LIN:  ... cautioned him—yes.  He cautioned him about speaking about the case.  Yes, interesting. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, I mean you know, I didn‘t know that‘s a judge‘s place to be telling a defendant what to say and not to say.  I‘ve often thought that‘s the lawyer‘s place.  Let me—the prom—he goes to the prom.  Apparently there was some sort of party after the prom too? 

LIN:  Yes.  From what we understand, the police think that he actually killed his parents, allegedly killed his parents now on Friday the 29.  His prom was the 30th of April.  Following the prom, it‘s said that he had a party at the home...

ABRAMS:  (INAUDIBLE)

LIN:  ... at his home and—yes, from what we know now, his parents were killed in the master bedroom at that home.  We do have some details of the crime scene, police according to a search warrant, obviously by this past Saturday when they discovered the bodies it was a pretty horrific smell emanating from the master bedroom, which was barricaded with chairs.  That‘s according to some published reports out of Durham.  So yes, he had a party there. 

ABRAMS:  Wow. 

LIN:  It‘s a pretty amazing case at this point. 

ABRAMS:  Unbelievable.  All right, Shelby Lin, thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

LIN:  Sure, Dan.  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, while senators battle over these two nominees for the federal bench, we go beyond the left-right debate and just look at what they said and ruled that‘s making them so—quote—“controversial.”

And the federal judge whose husband and mother killed in her Chicago home by a man apparently upset that she threw out his case speaks out for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  An entire family has lost its ability to feel safe when we walk through the door of our own homes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, senators clash over the president‘s nominees for the bench.  Rather than just have the usual right-left debate, we‘re going to lay out exactly what these judges have said that have made some believe they are so controversial, but first the headlines.

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  You‘ve probably heard a lot about the battle in the Senate over judges.  Well now these two women have become effectively kind of the poster children for the fight over who sits on the nation‘s courts.  There‘s no shortage of information out there about why these women would make great federal appeals judges or on the other side, why they‘re likely to devastate the American judiciary.  But we‘re going to do this story a little differently tonight and actually take a look at their opinions, the opinions the critics keep citing as examples on how unfit they are to serve on federal courts and we‘ll let you decide. 

Today, the battle took to the Senate floor, Republicans pushed ahead with the controversial nominations of Justices Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown and Democrats fired back. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Janice Rogers Brown can get 76 percent of the vote in California.  Priscilla Owen can get 84 percent of the vote in Texas, but neither can get a vote here on the floor of the United States Senate.  Why?  The minority says they‘re out of the mainstream.  Mr. President, are 76 percent of Californians and 84 percent of Texans out of the mainstream?  Denying Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen a vote is what‘s out of the mainstream.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER:  The president‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Alberto Gonzales, and now the attorney general of the United States and previously a member of the Texas Supreme Court said on multiple occasions that Priscilla Owen‘s activism was unconscionable.  Alberto Gonzales is a smart man.  He knows what the word unconscionable means.  But in case someone doesn‘t, let me read what it does mean.  Unconscionable:  Shockingly unjust and unscrupulous. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Joining me now “Congressional Quarterly‘s” legal affair reporter, he‘s also a Harvard Law School graduate, Seth Stern.  He‘s been covering the fight over these nominations in Washington. 

All right, Seth, let‘s do this straight, all right.  I specifically picked you, because I didn‘t want to get the sort of left-right thing going here and have a yelling match without getting to the bottom what we‘re really talking about.  First let me ask you a question about what Bill Frist just said.  Seventy-six percent, 84 percent of people voted for these women when they ran for their judge positions.  Did they run against anyone? 

SETH STERN, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  You know I‘m not sure whether they were contested elections...

ABRAMS:  All right.

STERN:  My understanding is that the last re-election that they were up, they did get those high margins. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  Yes, there‘s no question the numbers are right.  I know for a fact in one of them it was not contested, I didn‘t know about the other one.  All right.  Let‘s move on and talk about the opinions because I know that‘s what you‘ve been really following is exactly what their opinions were, what they said, et cetera. 

Let‘s start with Priscilla Owen.  You hear them talking about this Alberto Gonzales‘ opinion where he‘s criticizing Judge Owen.  Let me read from the dissent from Judge Owen in a—it was an abortion case and the question there was whether you can have an abortion without parental consent.  All right. 

And here is what Judge Owen said in the minority, meaning she was not the majority opinion.  She was fighting them on this, and she said it is Jane Doe‘s position that she is mature and sufficiently well informed to make the decision to have an abortion performed without notification to either of her parents.  The record indicates that Doe did not seek advice or counseling from anyone who was inclined to thoroughly explore with her the adverse emotional and psychological impact that an abortion may have. 

Doe affirmatively avoided counseling from any source who might cause her to seriously examine her decision in a meaningful way, as notifying one of her parents may have caused her to do.  It is the court who has acted irresponsibly in this case by summarily rendering judgment without careful consideration of the record by manufacturing reasons to support its action and by ignoring the evidence. 

All right, so Seth, translate that in—for us a little bit.  Basically what Judge Owen was saying is it‘s not so much to ask a girl to get counseling or have to speak with her parents first. 

STERN:  That‘s right.  She disagreed with the majority there.  There was a parental law consent law passed in Texas, with an exemption for a judicial bypass if a judge approved it, given that it was in the best interest of the youth, that they understood what was going on or that—consent would result in harm to them.  She disagreed with the intent of the state legislature, and thought they were trying to go on the side of more restriction and making the bypass by the judge less easy. 

ABRAMS:  And here‘s what Alberto Gonzales said and again, everyone keeps saying oh, Alberto Gonzales, now he‘s the attorney general and look, even he was criticizing her. 

Thus, to construe the Parental Notification Act so narrowly is to eliminate judicial bypasses or to create hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the statute, would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism.

Now, we heard Senator Reid say that repeatedly Alberto Gonzales had said that she was out of mainstream and the she was a judicial activist.  Is that true?  Was it more than one case? 

STERN:  This is the case that is being cited repeatedly by opponents with some glee because they‘re throwing back the charge of judicial activism and here you have the person who was White House council and now the attorney general. 

ABRAMS:  But—you know, but as a practical matter, he‘s just I mean another judge, right?  I mean it so happens that they can use that as a political matter, but as a legal matter, he was just another judge criticizing a fellow judge. 

STERN:  That‘s right.  It was in the majority opinion and there was

reference to her dissent.  It wasn‘t like...

ABRAMS:  All right.

STERN:  ... he was targeting her or singling her out, he was just commenting on her dissenting opinion.

ABRAMS:  All right, Janice Rogers Brown, again on abortion.  This is number eight. 

Today the court invalidates the legislature‘s effort to increase the involvement of parents in the abortion decisions of their unemancipated minor daughters, concluding the enactment cannot survive the exacting scrutiny of a compelling state interest test.  The fundamental problem with the plurality‘s approach to constitutional jurisprudence is that it allows the courts to topple every cultural icon, to dismiss all societal values, and to become the final arbiters of traditional morality in a context in which their view of wisdom cannot be challenged.

Again, translate. 

STERN:  Well here again, this is a parental consent law.  This is the one case where she‘s writing an opinion on abortion-related, so that‘s why it‘s getting a lot of attention.  She disagreed with the interpretation of the majority, which construed the state constitution of California to create a privacy right that was very protective of the youth.  She disagreed, didn‘t think there was this privacy right, and so that‘s where her dissent lies. 

ABRAMS:  Am I being a cynic when I say that the bottom line is that when it comes to these two judges, that the bottom line disagreement is over abortion.  Meaning, if these opinions on abortion weren‘t out there, would we still be having this kind of fight?

STERN:  Certainly in the case of Justice Owen in Texas, her judicial bypass decisions are the most controversial, but there are other issues.  The opponents are targeting their decisions about regulation, environmental issues...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

STERN:  ... discrimination cases, civil rights.  It‘s probably the most high profile, but there are certainly other cases that are being targeted. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but it‘s—when you‘ve got politicians dealing with these questions, they are going to look at the ones that are the most high profile.  My guess is without controversial abortion rulings, we might not be seeing this level of debate.  Seth Stern, thanks a lot for coming on the program.

STERN:  You‘re welcome.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a Chicago federal judge speaks for the first time since her family was gunned down in their home.  It‘s retaliation.  Judge Joan Lefkow in her own words, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, for the first time since her family was gunned down in her home, a Chicago judge speaks out about her experience.  We‘ve got the tape, coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Today for the first time since her mother and husband were shot to death in her Chicago home, U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow spoke out, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, asking for more resources to protect federal judges and responding to recent attacks on our nation‘s judges. 

On February 28, Bart Ross broke into Lefkow‘s home, hid in her basement, waited for her to come home apparently so he could kill her.  Instead, he shot and killed her husband Michael and mother, Donna Humphrey.  Ross apparently was angry that Lefkow dismissed his medical malpractice suit.  He committed suicide at a traffic stop 10 days later and left a note.  Judge Lefkow was also the target of a murder plot by white supremacist Matthew Hale, initially believed to be a suspect in the murders. 

In her plea for increased protection of federal judges, Lefkow touched on the more personal side of what the loss of her mother and husband means to both her and her family. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE JOAN LEFKOW, HUSBAND & MOTHER MURDERED:  Michael was a man whose excellent character and accomplishments at the bar and as a family man have been described in many recent news reports, and I will not attempt to recount them.  On a personal level, however, he was a man who at the age of 64, looked to the future with hopefulness and anticipation.  A litigant who was angry with me shot him in the head and my aged mother on February 28 of this year for no reason, other than that he was in—they were in his way on his road to murder me. 

He could have easily added my daughter, who is 16 years old and lived in our house, and me -- 2/28 is our own personal 9/11.  Since 2/28, our family includes a daughter and her husband who have to explain to their young children why their grandfather is now with God and they will never see him again.  Two daughters who will not have their beaming father to walk them down the aisle at their weddings in the coming year, and two who will not have dad to be there to join the fun at their upcoming graduations from high school and college. 

From now on, they will have a father‘s guidance only through the memory of what he was to them.  An entire family has lost its ability to feel safe when we walk through the door of our own homes.  Beyond the family, there is a community of clients, friends, fellow church members, and neighbors who simply miss this man and woman who were significant parts of their lives in one way or another.  Finally, I‘m the wife who wakes up in the morning, not to a cup of coffee presented by my husband of 30 years, to reopen what we called the endless conversation of marriage, but to an open book that I was reading in an effort to banish the memories of 5:30 p.m. on the day our world changed forever. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Just last Friday, Judge Lefkow was having dinner at a Chicago restaurant.  A man apparently taped a profane letter on the window near her table.  I said it before, I‘ll say it again.  We need to spend the money to protect this nation‘s judges. 

Coming up, what does Madonna have to do with the latest crisis in the Midwest?  It‘s “Closing Argument”.

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:  My “Closing Argument”—Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is tackling major issues in Israel these days.  The construction of new homes in southern Israel for settlers forced to evacuate from Gaza, preparations for a trip to the United States next week for an important speech at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee.  But leading press coverage of Sharon today in both New York and Jerusalem, what seems to be the battle of the wives over something material. 

Why Sharon‘s ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, failed to arrange a meeting for the wife of the Israeli foreign minister with the material girl, Madonna.  Yes, the wife of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, the popular Israeli TV personality.  She reportedly wanted to meet Madonna last fall and stage a photo op when she visited Israel.  Well, it seems that the office of Israeli Ambassador Ayalon said Madonna was too busy. 

So the jilted wife goes and tries to get Ayalon‘s personal assistant fired for failing to arrange the meeting.  Israel‘s attorney general is now investigating charges that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is meddling in embassy personnel matters.  Now Israel Civil Service Commission conducting its own investigation into Ambassador Ayalon‘s wife and whether she mistreated embassy employees. 

The real problem behind what the international press has dubbed the war of the wives is something pretty serious.  It‘s competition over who really controls Israel‘s diplomatic relations in Washington.  But compared to a spat over Madonna.  I mean, come on!  Ambassador Ayalon has claimed he has the full support of Prime Minister Sharon and Sharon will not recall him to Israel over the scandal.  And Madonna thought the only brouhaha she was causing in the Holy Land was trying to get the rabbis to take kabala seriously. 

Coming up, a lot of interesting e-mails from you guys. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Many of you writing in about my conversation with Erin Runnion, the mother of 5-year-old Samantha, kidnapped while playing with her friend, later sexually assaulted and murdered.  A jury convicted the man, sentenced to death on Monday.

Mike Walker from Tallahassee, Florida, “It was obvious the story was moving you emotionally well before you admitted it at the closing of the story.  Good job.  We‘re all human and your emotion was sincere.”

It was, Mike.  Erin Runnion is such a strong and impressive woman, really.

Robin Duffey from Alaska, “What a heartfelt interview with Erin Runnion.  This one really touched me.”  Thank you both. 

All right, last night in my “Closing Argument” I was thrilled about the Supreme Court decision that said no to state laws which prevent consumers from ordering wine directly from out-of-state wineries but said there‘s still work before all us consumers of wine win the battle against the middlemen.  We talked about Michael Jackson saying his chimp does his housework and flushes the toilet after himself. 

Meri Ulrich in Phoenix brings them together.  “Are people insane?  I thought that indentured slavery was abolished quite a while ago.  How dare Michael Jackson turn his chimps into house slaves.  Maybe the chimps can hand deliver your wine.  They obviously don‘t require any kind of payment like the middleman.  It could solve your problem.  Drink up.  Love your show.”  Thanks Meri.

And many of you e-mailed with the same joke.  Logan Jackson in Fairfax, Virginia, “I find it interesting how Michael‘s monkey cleans up after himself.  What happens when the monkey doesn‘t pick up after himself?  Does he get spanked?”

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com

“OH PLEAs!”—most people when they get pulled over, they try to get out of a ticket by being polite calling the officer ma‘am or sir.  Seems one motorist in Woodville, Maine --  I love that word motorist—tried something a bit more aggressive let‘s say.

Forty-two-year-old Peter Murray got into a car accident last Sunday.  Didn‘t lead him to invoke his right to remain silent.  No, as State Trooper Jennifer Fiske tried to take him to the station, he tried to take her somewhere else.  Murray sitting in the passenger seat of Fiske‘s patrol car apparently thought hey, maybe she pulled me over because she likes me. 

Murray began telling Fisk how beautiful her eyes were, then tried to touch the officer‘s arm.  Fiske halted the car and went to handcuff Murray.  Unfortunately, it seems that was a bonus for Murray.  Murray tried to handcuff the officer to him saying I just want us to be tied together.

Ms. Fiske in no mood for Murray‘s police fantasy hit Murray on the thigh with her baton and clasped the handcuffs.  It seems Murray liked that, too.  For the rest of the trip, he tried to grab the steering wheel in the hope that Fiske would slap him again with her baton.  Murray was charged with DUI, assaulting a police officer, refusing to submit to arrest, refusing to give his name.  Talk about rejection. 

That does it for us tonight.  Thanks for watching.  See you tomorrow.

END

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