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Pop star's hearing on alleged prior sex abuse to be open

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    News Media Update         CALIFORNIA         Secret Courts         Jan. 12, 2005    

Pop star’s hearing on alleged prior sex abuse to be open

  • The judge presiding over Michael Jackson’s trial has decided that the law requires that evidentiary hearings be public, and that a TV producer must testify at his trial.

Jan. 12, 2005 — Arguments over whether past allegations of child sexual abuse by Michael Jackson are admissible at his upcoming trial will be public, a California trial judge ruled today.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville also ordered a television reporter to testify at the pop star’s trial in March.

The decisions came as the news media continues to battle over the secrecy enveloping most of the case so far.

“I was very pleased that the judge recognized the California Supreme Court ruling that hearings such as admission of evidence be held in open court,” media lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. told The Associated Press.

In a landmark 1999 decision entitled NBC v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court held that a trial court’s closure of evidentiary hearings during a civil trial involving Clint Eastwood and his ex, Sondra Locke, violated the state’s “open court” statute and the First Amendment.

Melville did not set a date for Jackson’s evidentiary hearing, but said he will schedule the arguments after a jury is seated to minimize the risk of prejudice, AP reported. Jury selection is set to begin Jan. 31.

Jackson faces 10 felony counts, including conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion; commission of a lewd act upon a child; and administering an intoxicating agent — alcohol — to assist in the commission of a felony. Virtually no details of the charges — including the identity of any possible co-conspirators — have been released to the public because of numerous sealing orders and a broad gag order on anyone affiliated with the case. The court says the secrecy is warranted because of the “intense” public and media interest in the case, and the general need to protect Jackson’s right to a fair trial.

Melville has also banned cameras from the courtroom, prompting cable network E! Entertainment to announce Tuesday it will telecast daily re-enactments of the trial. The channel ran a similar re-enactment show during O.J. Simpson’s civil trial in 1996.

In July 2004, Boutrous challenged on behalf of numerous media outlets the trial judge’s sealing of a wide array of case records, arguing it was unlawful under both the First Amendment and California law. They assert the court failed to follow proper procedure for closing court hearings and sealing records, and created a “presumption of secrecy” by categorically barring public release of any real information on the charges against Jackson, any evidence that might be admitted or excluded at trial, and the identities of potential witnesses and the alleged co-conspirators. The California Court of Appeal for the Second District has not set a date to hear oral arguments in the appeal.

Meanwhile, Melville has scheduled pretrial hearings in Jackson’s case for Jan. 21 and Jan. 27.

Melville also has ordered television reporter Martin Bashir to appear March 31 to testify at Jackson’s trial, AP reported. Bashir, the producer of a 2003 documentary in which Jackson said children slept in his bed but that it was not sexual, now works for ABC News, which told AP that it will challenge the subpoena.

“We feel strongly that the California shield law protects the rights of journalists who cannot be — or be perceived to be — arms of either the prosecution or defense as they pursue the news,” ABC News Vice President Jeffrey Schneider told AP.

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

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