Michael Jackson's family sat solemnly across the courtroom from the doctor charged in the death of the pop legend, listening as a judge said Monday he could not suspend Dr. Conrad Murray's medical license in California and that it could take months for the case to go to trial.
"I want to give this case priority," Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said. "It is a very serious matter for Dr. Murray, for the Jackson family and the community at large."
Pastor said the schedules of everyone involved in the case and the need for preparation time required that a preliminary hearing be moved back to at least Aug. 23, with a requirement to start within 60 days after that. A trial date can't be set until that process concludes.
Several members of Jackson's family, including his father Joe, mother Katherine, sister LaToya and brothers Jermaine and Randy, attended the hearing.
Murray sat expressionless beside his attorneys. Asked if he waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing, the doctor quietly replied, "Yes, sir."
Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death last June.
‘Justice for Michael’
At Monday's hearing, a group of Jackson fans sat in the back of the courtroom wearing T-shirts with his image and the message, "We are his voice now."
Outside the courthouse, Jackson supporters raised signs and shouted "Justice for Michael." They were often drowned out by protesters with bullhorns calling for justice in the separate trial of a white San Francisco Bay Area transit officer accused of shooting and killing an unarmed black man last year.
Together, the two groups included several hundred people.
Pastor was emphatic about his refusal to change an order previously issued by Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz declining to suspend Murray's medical license when he was arraigned in February.
Schwartz did order Murray not to administer heavy anasthetics such as propofol, the drug cited in Jackson's death.
Pastor said it would conflict with established case law to change Schwartz's ruling and would set him up as "a one-judge appellate court."
"There is oftentimes in the real world a belief that judges can make up the rules as they go through a case," Pastor said.
However, he said, the law mandates, "I do not have the ability to revisit a ruling by one of my colleagues."
Pastor told Deputy District Attorney General Trina Saunders the medical board had the option of holding an administrative hearing on the license. He also said she could appeal his ruling.
Pastor said he might revisit the issue if there was new information.
California authorities have sought the suspension since Murray was charged with involuntary manslaughter in February. He is accused of giving the pop star a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol.
The pop music legend died after Murray, his personal physician, administered propofol and other drugs to help him sleep.
Murray maintains nothing he did should have killed Jackson. He remains free on $75,000 bail.
Murray's attorneys fought the restriction on his California license, arguing it would prompt authorities in Texas and Nevada to take similar action. Murray operates clinics in both states.
Murray's attorney Ed Chernoff said in documents filed Friday that Nevada and Texas have reached agreements to allow Murray to practice as long as he abides by a judge's order not to administer anesthetics such as propofol.