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Media access in question in Jackson case

Prosecutors seek gag rule; press wants documents unsealed
/ Source: The Associated Press

The judge presiding over the Michael Jackson child molestation case faces new decisions regarding media access, with prosecutors calling for a rigid publicity gag order and six news organizations asking that court documents be unsealed.

In a case that instantly became fodder for 24-hour cable news networks and gossip columns because of the celebrity at its center, two separate court filings turned the focus back on the media.

The district attorney’s office sought an order that would prohibit Jackson, his attorney Mark Geragos and virtually every person connected to the case from talking to the news media.

The gag order would be similar to one in effect at the Scott Peterson murder trial. Peterson is also defended by Geragos, who called the prosecution’s motion on Wednesday “outrageous” and said he would file an answer opposing it by next week.

Meanwhile, news organizations asked Superior Court Judge Clifford Anderson to unseal records related to the search of Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, saying the public was not properly notified of a request last month that the documents remain sealed until the pop star’s Jan. 16 arraignment.

Details of search warrant soughtThe documents include the search warrant, an affidavit in which authorities explained their reasons for seeking the warrant, and a list of items seized.

The records were initially sealed for 45 days on Nov. 17, the day before authorities searched the estate for evidence involving the boy Jackson is accused of molesting. Jackson has denied the allegations.

The records were to become public Dec. 31, but Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon and Geragos requested before then that they remain sealed.

Theodore Boutrous Jr., representing NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC, Fox News Network and The New York Times, on Wednesday requested that a hearing on unsealing the search records be held on the day of the arraignment.

In the prosecution’s gag order request, Jackson’s attorney was singled out for his willingness to speak with reporters and on television and radio.

“Attorney Geragos has not been shy about offering his own opinion about the supposed ’financial motive’ of the boy identified as the victim in this case and the boy’s family for reporting their concerns to the authorities,” the motion said.

Less talk, less coverageThe 58-page filing predicted that publicity would abate and frequency of news reports on the case would lessen if Geragos was unavailable to talk.

“It is certainly true that there will be ongoing coverage of the instant case, just as there is of the Peterson matter,” said the motion. “But experience has shown that when the ’talking heads’ on what could be called ’tabloid television’ do not have Mr. Geragos or other lawyers and principals to interview, they interview one another and indulge in speculation. That gets old in a hurry.”

The filing also accused Geragos of attempting to taint the potential jury pool with his comments and suggested he was possibly violating the State Bar’s rules of professional responsibility regarding public comments on behalf of a client.

Geragos responded that his statements have been responses to the prosecutors, and noted the several public appearances by law enforcement.

“When I first read it, I wondered if the district attorney’s office was suffering from short-term memory loss,” Geragos said. “I was not the one conducting multiple press conferences with audio and visual displays.”

An attorney representing the family of Jackson’s accuser has also filed a formal complaint with the county about the leak of a confidential child welfare agency memo, the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

The agency memo said Jackson was cleared of misconduct by child welfare investigators after the boy denied Jackson molested him.