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getting royal treatment?

Michael Jackson's mere presence creates a Santa Maria spectacle
/ Source: NBC News

From where I stand on our two-story platform, just to the side of the courthouse, I know 10 minutes before Michael Jackson’s two black SUVs pull up in front.

It’s not because our camera can focus around corners. We simply watch the motorcycle cops leave their tented post and we know they are off to greet Jackson’s caravan as he exits the freeway.

"I’ve never seen a defendant get a police escort," said former Santa Barbara County prosecutor Craig Smith. "I’ve also never seen a defendant have preferential parking, and be able to line up not one, but two, vehicles right at the curb of the courthouse. So, indeed, that is a little unusual."

It’s also unusual for a criminal defendant to show up wearing his pj’s and slippers to the courthouse. Then again, Michael Jackson is not the usual criminal defendant.

Most aren’t greeted every morning by a small-but-dedicated group of fans. (A few yell, "Michael, Michael, we love you" so loud, the strain on their vocal cords becomes obvious after 20 minutes of screaming.)

Most aren’t accompanied by a small entourage. One to open the car door. One to hold the umbrella. And one to hold the pop star's elbow, as a bodyguard firmly, but gently, guides Jackson away from the fans he loves to the courtroom he dreads.

If you think of the Michael Jackson trial like an onion, you have to peel off a fair number of layers — the circus surrounding the proceedings — before you get to the part that represents our criminal justice system. And you start to wonder: Is Michael Jackson receiving special treatment simply because he’s, well, Michael Jackson?

"If he weren’t Michael Jackson, I don’t think much of this would be happening," said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School, in Los Angeles. "I’m not sure many judges would tolerate it. You have to get to court on time and if you don’t you could end up in jail."

Not Jackson, even after Judge Rodney Melville issued a bench warrant for the pop star, giving him just one hour to show up at the courthouse. Jackson missed the deadline by three minutes and much to the surprise of many, nothing happened, at least not in open court.

Someone call the doctorAnd then, to the surprise of many, Jackson showed up late again, looking more dazed and confused than anyone in that silly movie. Rather than looking dressed for court, he looked dressed for bed. And who was the man wearing scrubs?

"I’ve never seen a defendant show up late to court accompanied by his doctor," said Smith. "I’ve seen defendants show up late with a note from their doctor, but not the doctor himself. I’m sure though, that if the doctor didn’t say something persuasive or convincing to the judge, I think the judge was up to his neck in late appearances and if he didn’t feel genuinely that there was a good medical excuse, he probably would have taken [Jackson] into custody.”

Smith, who has spent time in Melville’s court as a former prosecutor, is careful to point out that perhaps the perceived royal treatment being extended to the King of Pop is not so much about Jackson himself. Rather it’s a manifestation of the fact that, like it or not, Jackson is an international celebrity and with that come certain unavoidable challenges for the court.

"I think the preferential treatment is a result of the logistics that are involved when someone of his celebrity is hauled into court, in what is basically a medium-sized or small town," explained Smith. "You really have to look at it as ... they’re giving him special treatment because that’s they way they have to. They have to do that in order to maintain order and decorum in the courtroom."

And maybe that’s all that counts. In the end it might not really matter what happens outside Melville's courtroom. If the jury is following the judge’s admonishment everyday, and there is no reason to believe they aren't, these eight women and four men, plus eight alternates, should know nothing about Jackson’s antics or the repeated court delays because of the pop star.

Meantime, his arrival always makes for an exciting 10 minutes on the platform, watching the motorcycle cops speed down the street as the crowd's anticipation builds. I can already hear them starting to chant "Michael, Michael, we love you."

NBC News' Jennifer London is covering the Jackson trial.