Veil of Secrecy Over Jacko Grand Jury

On the eve of grand jury proceedings in the Michael Jackson (search) molestation case, a judge barred pictures or communication with any prospective or final panelists, or grand jury witnesses.

Superior Court Judge Clifford R. Anderson III did not mention Jackson's name in his order Wednesday, but acknowledged a grand jury (search) summoned this week "has created significant media and public interest."

The order threatens to hold in contempt anyone who communicates with a juror, prospective grand juror or witness -- or reveals secret testimony. It also prohibits photography of jurors or prospective jurors entering and exiting the courthouse and "any other facility or property utilized by the grand jury."

Media lawyers immediately protested, calling the order "overbroad and unconstitutional prohibition of activity protected under the First Amendment and California law." They said the courthouse and its environs have long been recognized as a public forum.

"I've not seen an order so broad and so sweeping," said attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who represents several media organizations including The Associated Press.

About 100 prospective jurors have been summoned. On Thursday, selection is set to begin for a panel of 19 to hear cases, including that of the pop star.

Jackson has pleaded innocent to seven counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under age 14, and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent to the child.

The oddity in the Jackson case is the grand jury hearings are being held four months after District Attorney Tom Sneddon (search) filed charges -- rather than as a prelude to the filing.

Normally, the filing of charges would lead to a public preliminary hearing. With a grand jury, all testimony is given behind closed doors; defense attorneys do not get to cross-examine witnesses and the public and press are absent.

Separately Wednesday, a judge tossed out several claims in Jackson's lawsuit alleging Universal Music Group owes him royalties.

In his 2003 lawsuit, Jackson said the company violated a 1980 agreement to pay him royalties for recordings he made from 1976 to 1980 with Motown Records, which UMG has acquired.

Judge Emilie H. Elias threw out Jackson's allegation UMG violated a law on fraudulent business practices, but allowed claims about breach of contract and accounting practices to proceed, Jackson attorney Brian G. Wolf said.