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Judge refuses to cite journalist over gag order in Jackson case

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    News Media Update         California         Prior Restraints         Feb. 22, 2005    

Judge refuses to cite journalist over gag order in Jackson case

  • The judge presiding over Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial has denied a defense request for a contempt citation against journalist Martin Bashir over a recent ABC news program.

Feb. 22, 2005 — The producer of a 2003 televised documentary about Michael Jackson will not be cited for contempt for allegedly violating a gag order with a recent report on ABC-TV, the trial judge in the Jackson case has ruled.

Jackson’s defense lawyers had asked that Martin Bashir, who has been subpoenaed to testify at Jackson’s trial next month, face contempt charges stemming from his interview with actor Corey Feldman that aired Feb. 11 on ABC’s “20/20.” Jury selection resumed Tuesday in the case, in which Jackson is charged with molesting a teenaged boy, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold the boy’s family hostage

In a motion filed under seal, the defense claimed Bashir made statements during the interview in violation of the court order, which gags all witnesses in the case, and induced Feldman — a former friend of Jackson’s who also may be called to testify — to violate the order. Bashir also promoted an upcoming “Primetime Live” special that constitutes “a further violation” of the order, according to Jackson’s attorney, Robert M. Sanger.

Although the gag order hampers Jackson’s ability to appear in public and communicate with fans, he abides by it “because he understands that the Court issued the protective order to ensure a fair trial,” Sanger wrote in a document requesting sanctions against Bashir. “Other witnesses should show this Court the same respect by following its orders.”

Judge Rodney S. Melville denied the defense request on Feb. 17 without prejudice, meaning Jackson could bring a similar motion again. The judge gave no reason for his ruling. Melville had clarified during a hearing in January, however, that the gag order forbids Bashir, like any other witness, from identifying the minors involved, and from disclosing evidence relating to the charges that he knows about through “personal observation.”

“This does not mean he cannot . . . be a reporter on this case or report this case just like any other journalist,” Melville said, adding that the gag order would not prohibit Bashir from “releasing” his documentary.

Bashir produced a February 2003 television documentary entitled “Living with Michael Jackson,” that included footage of Jackson and his accuser. In it Jackson said children slept in his bed but claimed it was not sexual. Bashir now works as a correspondent for ABC News.

As of Feb. 22, Bashir’s lawyers were not aware of any request for a contempt citation as a result of the two-hour “Primetime Live” special entitled “Michael Jackson’s Secret World,” which aired Feb. 17.

(People v. Michael Jackson, Media Counsel: Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Los Angeles)KK

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