Skakel attorney tries hand as talk-show host
By Kevin McCallum - Stamford Advocate
After losing the highest-profile criminal case of his career, Michael Sherman is trying his hand at a new line of work -- television journalism.
The Stamford attorney for convicted murderer Michael Skakel last night hosted a legal talk show called 'The Abrams Report' on cable news network MSNBC.
Sherman filled in for anchor and NBC News Chief Legal Correspondent Dan Abrams, presiding over an hourlong discussion on issues ranging from the WorldCom accounting scandal to the upcoming trial of David Westerfield, who is accused of kidnapping and murdering Danielle van Dam, 7, of Sabre Springs, Calif.
Sherman, a regular guest on the show, said Abrams last week offered him the chance to ask questions for a change.
"Dan asked me to do the show for one day, and he allowed me to pick whoever I wanted to be on it," Sherman said yesterday from MSNBC's Secaucus, N.J., studios. "So I'm putting on all my friends."
Sherman's friends who appeared as guests on the show included singer and songwriter Michael Bolton, to discuss music industry copyright law in the Internet era; U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, to discuss corporate ethics in the wake of the WorldCom scandal; and New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who discussed steroid use in professional baseball and the death of former Red Sox great Ted Williams.
The Skakel trial did not come up.
While the limelight-loving Sherman has been a guest on numerous television talk shows and a commentator for Court TV, last night's show marked his first stint as interviewer on a news program.
"It's a very entertaining diversion," Sherman said.
To prepare for the show, Sherman said he spent the weekend reading The New York Times, scouring the Internet and brainstorming discussion topics with the guests.
While he acknowledged that hosting such a show would be more of a challenge than appearing as a guest, Sherman downplayed the significance of anchoring the program.
"It's fun, but I don't take it that seriously," he said. "It's a nice vacation. After the last couple of months, this is a more a low-pressure experience."
Sherman has represented Skakel since the beginning of an 18-month grand jury investigation in 1998 into the Martha Moxley murder and through Skakel's arrest and monthlong trial at state Superior Court in Norwalk.
Skakel, 42, was found guilty June 7 of bludgeoning Moxley to death with a 6-iron in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich in 1975.
Sherman immediately vowed to appeal the decision, which he called "the most upsetting verdict I've ever had, or will ever have, in my life."
Despite the Skakel family's decision to hire two Hartford attorneys, Hope Seeley and Hubert Santos, to handle Skakel's appeal, Sherman said he continues to be an integral part of Skakel's defense.
Sherman said his brief tenure as host of 'The Abrams Report' has not detracted from his work on Skakel's case.
"My full-time job is doing what I can to win freedom for Michael Skakel, and nothing's going to change that," Sherman said.
Phil Griffin, vice president of prime-time programming for MSNBC, said Sherman has worked for network as a paid legal analyst and maintains an excellent professional relationship with Abrams, who covered the Skakel trial for the network.
Sherman and Abrams got to know each other while Abrams worked as a reporter for Court TV, for which Sherman has worked as a commentator, Griffin said.
When Abrams wanted to take a couple of days off, the network agreed Sherman would make an excellent guest host, Griffin said.
Abrams will continue to report on Skakel's sentencing and appeals, Griffin said.
Asked whether Sherman's appearance as a news show host for the network would raise a conflict of interest for the network's future coverage of the Skakel case, Griffin said it would not.
"The trial is done, let's face it," Griffin said.
Griffin initially said Sherman was being paid a fee for his work as the guest host. He was asked whether paying Sherman would essentially make him Abrams' co-worker, and create a conflict of interest for Abrams as he covers Skakel's sentencing and appeal. Griffin later amended his comment and said Sherman was not being paid for the show.
Either way, Griffin said no conflict will exist because of the professionalism of both men and the network.
"I don't think it compromises us in any way," he said.
Griffin called Sherman an "interesting guy" who he would consider hiring full time, if Sherman were interested.
Sherman said he is not interested, noting he has a thriving law practice.
"Within four days, I'll be back in front of the door of the prosecutor's office grumbling for a reduced charge for a misdemeanor," Sherman said.