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Jackson judge delays ruling on prior acts

Melville also says future hearings likely will remain open
/ Source: Reuters

The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case Wednesday delayed ruling on whether accusations of past abuse by the pop star could be admitted at trial.

And in a rare victory for reporters covering the case, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said he was unlikely to conduct such hearings in secret. He has imposed an extraordinary level of secrecy in pretrial hearings in order to protect what he has called Jackson’s right to a fair trial.

Melville said he was not inclined to consider any evidence that Jackson may have sexually abused other boys until he heard the bulk of the prosecution’s case against the singer. It was not clear when he would take up the issue.

Melville said that under California law, he did not believe he could conduct the hearings behind closed doors, as the defense wanted. He gave attorneys from both sides the opportunity to make further arguments on that issue.

The judge has scheduled hearings on Jan. 21 and Jan. 27.

An attorney representing news organizations said Melville had made the right decision.

“Fame does not give license to secrecy in the judicial process,” said Ted Boutrous, a lawyer for several news organizations covering the case.

Prosecutors are seeking to introduce at Jackson’s trial evidence of what they describe as his “prior sexual offenses,” even though Jackson has never been tried in a court on those issues.

The current case marks the first time Jackson has been arrested or charged with a sexual offense. In the mid-1990s, a boy accused Jackson of molesting him, but an out-of-court civil settlement was reached and no criminal charges were filed.

Jackson’s lawyers have asked Melville to bar any such evidence, calling it flimsy. And in court filings, they argued media coverage of the hearing could prejudice potential jurors.