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Jackson judge seals 'sensitive information'

Melville says letting media have case documents would hurt jury selection
/ Source: The Associated Press

The judge in Michael Jackson’s child molestation case sealed 82 pages of documents containing “sensitive information” and declined to lift a gag order, ruling that it would violate the privacy of all parties involved.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said the documents contain “reports of statements of a minor about events of a sexual nature,” and ordered the material sealed indefinitely.

Melville also said releasing the material as requested by the media would “complicate the process of selecting an unbiased jury.”

Friday’s ruling gave only hints of the contents of the documents and related tape recordings: a young’s boy’s accounts of what allegedly happened, interviews with his family, statements that came out during the child’s psychological counseling and information about another case 10 years ago in which Jackson was accused of molestation.

Jackson has pleaded innocent to seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent, reportedly wine, to get the boy to comply. He is free on $3 million bail.

The evidence was contained in an affidavit in which authorities explained their reasons for seeking a search warrant for Neverland Ranch.

News organizations had argued for the release of the material, but Melville indicated he had no choice but to seal the documents given the extensive public interest and the possibility that the information could violate the parties’ privacy rights.

Melville also said he found it impossible to edit the material so that some of it could be released, although he promised to attempt to edit some related materials, such as the search warrants themselves. There was no estimate on when those materials might be made public.

Attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr., who represents media organizations seeking to unseal the documents, said he was looking into ways to challenge the judge’s decision.

Melville also addressed the issue of a gag order preventing attorneys for both sides from discussing the case publicly. Both the defense and prosecution have submitted proposals to allow public statements to help quell unfounded rumors in the case.

Melville said he would revisit the issue at a hearing on Feb. 13.

In denying news media requests to lift the gag order, Melville chastised both sides for statements made before the order was in place.

He noted District Attorney Tom Sneddon once called Jackson “Wacko Jacko” during an appearance on Court TV, a remark for which the prosecutor later apologized. And he noted Jackson attorney Mark Geragos said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that the child’s allegations amounted to “a scam” and “a shakedown.”