SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Celebrity trials require a different standard than others if the defendant is to be treated fairly, the judge in Michael Jackson's child molestation case suggested in explaining why he has shrouded the case in secrecy.
"The difficulty of seeing that an individual in this country gets a fair trial is exasperating when the individual is known around the world," Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville (search) said Friday as he rejected a request to unseal much of the evidence collected against Jackson.
The 45-year-old pop superstar has pleaded not guilty to committing a lewd act upon a child, administering alcohol, and conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
Media attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. (search) implored Melville to unseal 47 search warrants and the entire grand jury indictment pertaining to Jackson so the public can know the exact charges the entertainer faces and determine whether he is receiving a fair trial.
"The time has come, in this case, to let the sun shine in so the public, and the press as its surrogates, can know what the case is about," said Boutrous, who represents a coalition of media organizations including The Associated Press.
By keeping a tight lid on the case, Boutrous said Melville is allowing Jackson's lawyers to "manage" the release of information, an allegation that brought a harsh response from the judge.
"This is about the court trying to balance First Amendment rights against the rights of Mr. Jackson and the prosecution," Melville said.
"Mr. Boutrous, you know that everything I'm doing is according to the law. I'm being very careful in following the law. Please do not mislead the press about this. I support the First Amendment."
Outside court, Boutrous told reporters he will consult with his media clients about appealing the judge's refusal to unseal the documents.
Key sections of the indictment against Jackson are blacked out. The names of five alleged co-conspirators remain secret, as do 28 specific acts the prosecution alleges in support of the charges.
Both prosecution and defense attorneys are under a court-imposed gag order — supported by both sides — that prevents them from commenting on any aspect of the case.
After denying several motions to unseal the documents, Melville spent an hour and a half in his chambers with attorneys discussing legal matters he said also had to remain private.
He said if there was a problem, Geragos would be ordered to appear at the case's next scheduled hearing, on July 9, to explain.
Melville also set another hearing for Aug. 16 that he said could last several days and would likely include testimony from witnesses as the defense seeks to suppress certain evidence against Jackson. He indicated that Jackson, who didn't appear at Friday's hearing, would be required to attend the August session.
Boutrous predicted the defense would try to close that hearing as well as seal its motion to dismiss the grand jury indictment against Jackson.
"That would be an outrage, to have this crucial motion, where there was not a preliminary hearing, kept secret," Boutrous said.