Conversation with Mark Geragos

–San Francisco APS Hosts Famed Attorney

By Teni Issakhanian Avanessian

SAN FRANCISCO–The San Francisco Armenian community gathered at Vasbouragan Hall for the Armenian Professional Society’s "A Conversation with Mark Geragos." The November 6 event–which kicked off APS’s 23rd year of service to the Bay Area Armenian community–featured an interview and question-and-answer session with prominent attorney Mark Geragos.

"Mr. Geragos is always breaking ground in the criminal defense arena and consistently setting precedent," stated APS President and moderator for the evening–Dr. John Missirian. A graduate of Loyola Law School and Haverford College–Geragos serves as the managing partner of the twelve-year-old Los Angeles-based law firm Geragos and Geragos–founded by his father and former Los Angeles APS President Paul Geragos. Known for his high-profile cases and representation of prominent figures in politics–entertainment–and business–Mark Geragos’s client roster boasts the likes of actress Wynona Ryder–hip hop star Nate Dogg–superstar Michael Jackson–US. Congressman Gary Condit–the Clinton Whitewater scandal’s Susan McDougal–and currently–Scott Peterson.

In addition–Geragos is a self-proclaimed "stealth Armenian" who has successfully defended many young Armenia’s involved in shootings and gang activity in recent years. He has tackled the very real problem of racial profiling among Armenian youth in Glendale. He even served as one young Armenian man’s criminal defense attorney in the first California decision on Proposition 21–which made juveniles eligible for the death penalty in California based on gang affiliation. His successful defense not only invalidated Prop. 21–but also saved his client’s life–reducing the sentence from the death penalty to a brief incarceration followed by 2000 hours of community service. This young man has since turned his life around and become a trustworthy and upstanding citizen.

With such stories–the APS event exposed a side of the lawyer that the public normally does not see when observing him in court–on TV–or on his recently launched Internet-based television broadcasting network. Besides criminal defense–the outspoken Geragos also candidly shared his views on the recent Presidential elections–the state of Armenia’s in Glendale–and his Armenian heritage.

Of particular concern to him–however–was the intersection of law and politics as it affects the diaspora Armenian community. "The Armenian Bar Association is not as effective or as active as it should be. We should carry more weight with the Governor when he makes judicial appointmen’s," Geragos expressed. He went on to criticize Armenia’s in positions of power as one of the primary reasons why Armenia’s have not made as much a name for themselves as they should have by now. He stressed that by this point in time–we should have taken greater strides to establish our reputation–our name–and our presence in business–politics–media–and public affairs. He traced this failure back to the days of George Deukmejian–former governor of California–who did not fully maximize his golden opportunity and power to help Armenia’s–open doors for them–and place more of them in visible–prestigious positions of clout and influence. In addition–Geragos blamed Armenia’s themselves for always being dissatisfied: "We have too many chiefs and not enough Indians." For this reason–Geragos believes we continue to envy Jews who–in contrast to Armenia’s–not only unite–but upon doing so–pull one another up by their bootstraps more loyally and in a more widespread manner.

Geragos did not confine laying blame to Deukmejian–however. He went on to incite strong emotions among audience members when he reminded them about Hampig Sassounian’s trial before the California Supreme Court. Of the seven-person panel–the two California Supreme Court Justices of Armenian descent–Justices Marvin Baxter and Armand Arabian–recused themselves when Sassounian’s case was heard before the highest Court of the State of California. Sassounian’s case may have turned out differently had Baxter and Arabian stayed on for that trial. It is worth mentioning–however–that the now-retired Arabian did sponsor many Armenian law students and young lawyers as clerks in his chambers–and he continues to remain involved in the Armenian community.

No other Armenian in the legal profession has earned more of Geragos’s praise than Federal District Court Judge Dikran Tevrizian who–according to Geragos–is unwaveringly committed to mentoring and helping up-and-coming Armenian law students and lawyers to excel in the profession. "He’s tremendous. He is one of my heroes," Geragos pronounced with fervor.

As the evening progressed–it became abundantly clear that Geragos is passionate about many things: his Aintabtsi wife and two children–his liberal political views–Armenian food (his favorites are kufteh and dolma/sarma)–and his career as a criminal defense attorney. He does not apologize for his professional choice; in fact–in true criminal-defense-attorney fashion–he protects it wholeheartedly. "As a criminal defense attorney–you can’t care about being liked?you must like fighting against the odds–and you must like being in the courtroom?It’s not my job to determine guilt. My job is to take my client’s position and argue it zealously. I’m proud of what I do. I personally think that criminal law defense is the noblest profession there is."

Driving his point home–Geragos spoke of his uncles who were dragged into the desert and murdered during the genocide. He also spoke of his mother who landed in Fresno two generations ago and lived in a community where signs were posted that read: NO BLACKS–NO DOGS–NO ARMENIANS. As an Armenian who grew up hearing such tales from his mother–his Grandmother Rose and other genocide survivors–Geragos certainly understands and appreciates the plight of the underdog. This appreciation has evolved into a career devoted to challenging the Government (particularly the District Attorney’s office) and defending each and every client with equal dedication and conviction."

Regardless of people’s views on Geragos’s philosophy on politics–prominent Armenia’s–and his profession–his blunt and unapologetic beliefs are a refreshing change in this otherwise politically correct and tactful society. Furthermore–despite what one’s opinion is about Scott Peterson’s guilt or Geragos’s values and priorities for choosing to represent him–most would agree that if the day ever came that they were placed in a position to need it–they would want Geragos on their side. As Dr. John Missirian summed it up at the end of the evening–"If I am ever in trouble–I know who I would like to represent me!"

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