Police had “probable cause” to believe Michael Jackson had committed a crime when they raided his Neverland Valley Ranch looking for evidence, a judge in the pop star’s child molestation case ruled Tuesday.
Rejecting a challenge by Jackson’s attorneys during a pretrial hearing in the case, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said sexual abuse accusations by a 13-year-old boy were sufficient grounds for police to search Neverland last November.
“There was probable cause to believe that Mr. Jackson had committed criminal offenses based on the statements of the minor witnesses,” Melville said, referring to Jackson’s young accuser and his siblings.
Attorneys for the self-styled “King of Pop” claim that search warrants for Neverland were legally flawed, and they wanted a hearing to determine if evidence found there should be suppressed. That evidence has not been made public because Melville, who has conducted the case under nearly unprecedented secrecy, has kept it under seal.
While dismissing a blanket challenge by Jackson’s attorneys to the search, Melville said he would still allow them to argue against individual items of evidence taken away by police.
Jackson, who attended court on Monday dressed in symbolic white and accompanied by members of his family, was absent on Tuesday, with the judge’s approval.
Earlier in the day, Melville angrily fined one of the Jackson’s attorneys $1,000 — payable on the spot — for defying an order and stalked out of the courtroom.
Lawyer Brian Oxman was trying to get psychologist Stan Katz to admit he had a conflict of interest in the case because he had counseled both Jackson’s young accuser and a private investigator who worked for the singer’s former attorney.
Melville repeatedly warned Oxman that Katz, because of confidentiality requirements, could not be questioned about his patients. When Oxman persisted, the usually soft-spoken judge exploded in anger.
“A $1,000 sanction, immediately payable. We will take a recess,” Melville barked at Oxman. “I’m not going to put up with this.”
To lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau, he said, “Mr. Mesereau, you’re in charge of this team. We’ve got a problem.”
Melville then walked quickly to his chambers. During his 10-minute absence, Oxman wrote a check to the court clerk.
When court reconvened, Oxman tried to apologize, saying that he had been carried away by his “passion” for defending Jackson. Melville abruptly cut him off, saying, “Just stop that.”
The hearing is scheduled to resume on Thursday, with further testimony and argument over pretrial issues. Jackson is scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 31 on a 10-count indictment that charges him with child molestation and conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty.