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Media groups covering Jackson case fight secrecy

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Media groups covering Jackson case fight secrecy

  • Attorneys involved in the Michael Jackson child molestation case secretly got court records resealed, while the prosecution now seeks to gag Jackson and his attorney.

Jan. 8, 2004 — Some of the nation’s largest media organizations are fighting to gain access to court records in the child molestation case of singer Michael Jackson, which were secretly resealed on Dec. 26.

A handful of major news networks, as well as a group of newspapers that include The New York Times, have asked Judge Rodney S. Melville of Superior Court in Santa Barbara, Calif., to unseal court records pertaining to a search of Jackson’s estate in November and his arrest on felony sex charges.

“The First Amendment and California law are clear on this issue,” Theodore Boutrous, attorney for NBC, CBS and CNN, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “If there is a need to seal something that is particularly delicate, you have to explain it fully and you have to avoid just keeping all information away from the public.”

The documents were initially sealed for 45 days, with an end date of Dec. 31. On Dec. 26, Jackson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, and Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon got a Superior Court judge Clifford Anderson to approve extending the seal.

In his motion to have the records unsealed, Boutrous argued that the public wasn’t given any notification of the change, as required by law. What’s more, judges must block information from the public as narrowly as possible — such as redacting certain information — while then providing the public with a full explanation of their actions.

Jackson is scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 16, at which time Judge Melville will likely rule on the media’s motion.

In a separate attempt to keep information from the public, Sneddon applied for a gag order to prevent Jackson and his legal team from speaking to the press. The prosecutor asserted that “unrelenting comment” by the “tabloid press” has been damaging to his case. Sneddon further argued that Jackson’s attorneys are largely at fault for the publicly, as they have publicly called the accusations against Jackson a “shakedown” and a “scam.”

JL


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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