The indictment of Michael Jackson is just the beginning of a legal journey into a maze of grand jury regulations, with the defense poised to challenge it as having been compromised by extraordinary secrecy precautions.
Attorney Mark Geragos, forbidden from commenting due to a gag order, has indicated his strategy during public hearings. He is expected to argue that the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere created by authorities intimidated witnesses and grand jurors.
“It’s an interesting argument,” said Santa Clara Law School Professor Gerald Uelman, who succeeded in getting a grand jury dismissed in the O.J. Simpson trial. “I think the courts are sensitive now to the criticism of the way grand juries are conducted.”
Authorities blocked sidewalks, hid witnesses and delivered grand jurors to secret locations in buses with blacked-out windows to keep the proceedings secret. In one case, a photographer outside the building where grand jurors were meeting was ordered to delete photos from his digital camera because they revealed too much of the people entering.
On some days, witnesses were required to report to remote locations where they were picked up by authorities and transported to a sheriff’s training center for their testimony.
Geragos telegraphed his plan for a grand jury challenge during arguments before a Santa Barbara judge last week.
“If you believe what is reported, we’ve got people covered up, wrapped in blankets, put into vans driven around like they’re Osama bin Laden’s lieutenants and put into a training facility, then admonished in the procedure and then spirited out into the afternoon sun,” Geragos told Superior Court Judge Clifford Anderson.
'Pushing the envelope'
Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson called the defense plan “not a standard motion ... And Geragos is going to be pushing the envelope here. But I’ve never before heard of a hide-and-seek grand jury.”
An indictment was returned Wednesday, but authorities would not confirm that had happened even after major news organizations reported it. The document remained sealed and its details unknown.
Sources told The Associated Press on Thursday that 25 witnesses testified.
Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said on NBC’s “Today” show Friday that the singer “is concerned about the fact that he nor his attorneys are able to really address a lot of the issues because” because of the gag orders.
Bain said Jackson is “looking for his day in court. His legal teams feel that they are going to make sure that he is exonerated of these charges.”
The indictment was to remain under wraps until April 30 when Jackson is scheduled to be in court in Santa Maria for a pretrial hearing. He could be arraigned on the indictment.
Jackson was staying with his children and entourage in a secluded 12-bedroom mansion in Isleworth, Fla., according to the Orlando Sentinel. Time-share magnate David Siegel told the newspaper he had rented the $7.3 million home to Jackson at least through the end of the week. He declined to say how much he was paid.
The defense has said Jackson will plead innocent as he did to previous charges by the district attorney. The defense could then try to quash the indictment.
The grand jury proceedings replaced a preliminary hearing, which is public. Both proceedings determine whether there is enough evidence to go to trial.
Attorney Theodore Boutrous, who represents media companies in the case, said the extraordinary secrecy during the proceedings infringed on the press’ First Amendment rights to report on the case for the public.
“It forces reporters into back-alley reporting and that is not good for the public,” he said. “It closes a window on the public’s ability to serve as a check on the system.”