The Lawyer Who Helped Jim Morrison Ride Out a Legal Storm

On the heels of FL Governor Charlie Crist’s remarks that he is considering a posthumous pardon of The Doors front man Jim Morrison on his conviction for indecent exposure and profanity, we approached the New York Times and offered an exclusive interview with attorney Robert Josefsberg, a commercial and criminal litigation lawyer and partner at Podhurst Orseck, P.A. Bob was Morrison’s defense co-counsel in the infamous 1970 trial and helped get the rocker acquitted of more serious charges of drunkenness and lewd and lascivious behavior. The piece, which appeared in the NY Time’s “Arts Beat” blog, is below.
Should Gov. Crist move forward with the pardon, he will have to move quickly, as he will be leaving office in January. We’ll keep you posted as the issue progresses.

The Lawyer Who Helped Jim Morrison Ride Out a Legal Storm

 By Dave Itzkoff

 More than 40 years after Jim Morrison was convicted of indecent exposure and profanity for his behavior at a Florida rock concert the Doors’ front man is once again drawing headlines for his notorious behavior at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium on March 1, 1969, following remarks by Florida’s outgoing governor, Charlie Crist, that he was “willing to look into” a pardon for Morrison before his term expires in January. As the saying goes, if you can remember the 1960s you probably weren’t there. But one person who contradicts that adage is Robert C. Josefsberg, a commercial and criminal litigation lawyer and partner at the firm of Podhurst Orseck, P.A. in Miami, who was one of the lawyers who defended Morrison at his 1970 trial and helped get him acquitted of the more serious charges of drunkenness and lewd and lascivious behavior. Mr. Josefsberg, 72, spoke recently to ArtsBeat about his memories of Morrison, who died in 1971, and the possibility of his receiving a posthumous pardon. These are excerpts from that conversation.

Q. How were you connected to this case, and what were your impressions of Jim Morrison at the time?

A. I was co-counsel and local counsel. I think I’m the only one from the trial who’s left alive. The defense co-counsel has passed away. Three different prosecutors have passed away, the judge passed away. And Jim passed away. Jim and I were pretty close in age, and we kind of hit off. He was a very nice person. I’ve seen the movie about him and the Doors. Oliver Stone, with all due respect, is a revisionist. In the movie Jim was portrayed as a selfish druggie, and he wasn’t. He was a very nice person, a nice, decent human being with a very good sense of humor. We spent a lot of time with notepads, passing notes back and forth to each other, and he was very perceptive, very bright. He understood everything going on around him. And for the three weeks I was with him, he was sober.  

Q. I realize your perspective is colored somewhat because you defended him, but then how did he go and get himself arrested?

A. Well, the charges brought against him were that it was 1969, it was a different world. There were all sorts of political and social pressures, as was shown by the immediately following “Rally for Decency,” with Anita Bryant and Pat Boone. People were terribly offended by what he did. And I think it got blown out of proportion, as most things do. It gathered its own steam and fed off itself, and it became an atrocious thing. Not that I’m saying dropping your pants in public is acceptable. It’s not. It’s also not the worst thing in the world that ever happened. I’m not justifying his behavior – I think there was an overreaction.  

Q. Why do you think the subject of his being pardoned is coming up again?

A. It’s the end of a governor’s term. Governors and presidents have regularly been much more liberal about pardons at the very end of their terms. They’ve usually been much more liberal when their political futures are over, and I don’t think Charlie considers his political future over. I think it’s being raised now because people figure he’s getting out and he might want to do something nice. But I don’t know politics well enough to know whether this would enhance his career. This isn’t an open-and-shut case.

Q. How does a clemency board decide whether to issue a pardon in a case like this?

A. There are some very loose criteria, which is mostly, what has the person done since? And the second part is, How have the laws of society changed? On one of these, Jim’s a total loser, in terms of rehabilitation and what he’s done. He’s shown no remorse, no sorrow. And on the second one, it’s questionable. The funny part is, he was drunk. He was loaded. That, he got acquitted of. Part of their contract was to have, I think, 48 cans of ice-cold beer in their dressing room. What do you expect? But when you got Jim alone and you weren’t with all these groupies and the people who were star-gazing, he was a very thoughtful, decent person. He was very weird that night, and he didn’t remember any of it.  

Q. Do you still listen to his music now?

A. When I did – and when I do – he was a gifted musician. Then again, being a gifted musician does not justify antisocial behavior. He was gifted, there’s no question about it. His music is still wonderful, and his poetry that I have is pretty good. He’s not a drunk devil, and he’s not God. He’s a human being and very nice person. I wish he hadn’t done a stupid thing that night, and I wish he hadn’t done a stupider thing in a bathtub in Paris. But I don’t get to vote.