The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case rebuffed requests Friday from a news media attorney to unseal grand jury transcripts so the public can learn whether the singer is getting a fair trial.
Judge Rodney Melville said he had to balance the people’s right to know with Jackson’s right to a fair trial, and he acknowledged frustration with that task.
“The difficulty of seeing that an individual in this country gets a fair trial is exasperating when the individual is known around the world,” the judge said. But, he said, “I’m being very careful in following the law.”
Key sections of Jackson’s indictment are blacked out. The names of five alleged co-conspirators remain secret, as do 28 specific acts the prosecution alleges in support of the charges.
Both prosecution and defense attorneys are under a court-imposed gag order — supported by both sides — that prevents them from commenting on any aspect of the case.
Media lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. had asked the judge to unseal 47 search warrants and the entire grand jury transcript so the public can know the exact charges the entertainer faces and the procedures used to gather evidence.
“The time has come, in this case, to let the sun shine in so the public, and the press as its surrogates, can know what the case is about,” Boutrous said.
Boutrous said the most substantial issues were being shielded from public view and that the judge was routinely sealing all documents in the case without explanation.
“The parties have begun to speak in a secret speech code,” he said, noting that in the most recent notices of motions, “it’s almost impossible to decipher what they’re talking about.”
Outside court, Boutrous told reporters he will consult with his media clients about filing an appeal. He represents a coalition of news organizations including The Associated Press.
Defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. does not want grand jury transcripts or search warrants unsealed on the eve of trial, saying it would hurt his case.
Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to committing a lewd act upon a child, administering alcohol, and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
After announcing his decision on Boutrous’ request, the judge sealed a number of motions and search warrants without comment, saying he would issue written rulings later.
Another hearing was scheduled for July 9. Melville also announced a hearing for Aug. 16 that he said could last several days and would likely include witness testimony as the defense seeks to suppress certain evidence. He indicated the entertainer’s presence would be required.