Lawyers for news organizations petitioned the judge in the Michael Jackson case Tuesday to release the grand jury indictment against the pop star and to unseal transcripts of 13 days of testimony that led to the indictment.
Citing decades of court precedent, attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. argued that indictments can be sealed only under extraordinary circumstances, which have not been part of the Jackson case.
At a hearing April 30, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville disclosed that Jackson had been indicted on child molestation charges as well as a conspiracy count involving allegations of child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
He ordered edited portions of the indictment released but sealed details about acts alleged to have been committed in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy. At the request of Jackson’s lawyer, he also sealed the names of alleged indicted or unindicted co-conspirators.
“This case does not raise any of the issues that have traditionally been invoked to seal or partially seal indictments, such as the need to protect the lives of witnesses, to ensure the defendant or other potential targets did not flee, or the need to protect innocent persons from injury,” said Boutrous’ motion, filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
Reasons given by Melville for sealing the material were to protect the identify of the minor child who is accusing Jackson and to insulate prospective jurors from publicity that might prejudice them.
Boutrous said the accuser’s identity is already well known, although news media outlets have chosen not to publish it. The indictment actually refers to the accuser as “John Doe,” he noted.
As for prejudicial publicity, he said, “By definition, an indictment always casts the defendant in a negative light.” Sealing materials in the Jackson case, he said, would allow “every defendant in a case of public interest to argue an indictment should be sealed so the world will not learn of his or her alleged bad acts.”
In a separate motion arguing for release of the grand jury transcripts, Boutrous said that public interest in a case is not a legal reason to seal transcripts.
“Under that predicate, the only time that grand jury transcripts could be made public would be when the public was not interested in reviewing them.”
As for the impact of release on potential jurors, Boutrous said the remedy is to conduct careful and thorough jury questioning.
Boutrous, who represents a coalition of news organizations, urged the judge to release the material in its entirety, or to remove only limited sections, narrowly tailoring the omissions and specifying why their release might prejudice the right to a fair trial.
The motions are to be heard at a hearing May 28.
The indictment against Jackson unsealed last month included the conspiracy count, four counts of lewd acts involving a minor child, one count involving an attempted lewd act upon a child, and four counts of administering an intoxicating agent, alcohol, to assist in commission of a felony.
Jackson has pleaded not guilty.