LOS ANGELES – An appeal by news media wanting access to court information in the Michael Jackson (search) child molestation case went unheard for a week because a clerk refused to place it on the court docket, according to court papers.
Attorney Dominic Lanza, who filed the first appeal notice last week, said he checked five days later to make sure the matter was scheduled to be heard by Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville (search) but was told by the appellate clerk it was not filed.
Lanza, who is part of the legal team headed by Theodore Boutrous Jr., said the clerk told him, "The court is not recognizing you as a party."
He said it took until Thursday to get a clarification from the presiding justice of the California Second District Court of Appeal who instructed the clerk that the notice of appeal should be filed.
Melville has imposed extraordinary rules of secrecy in the singer's case and 11 news media organizations, including The Associated Press, are suing for access to court files on behalf of the public.
"It's clear that we have standing to appeal," Boutrous said. "So we were surprised to find out that our notice of appeal was not on the docket."
He noted that during court hearings, "Judge Melville has allowed us to participate fully in arguing to unseal documents. We have briefed and argued more motions than anybody."
In a 27-page brief filed Thursday, Boutrous asked the appeals court for an expedited schedule saying, "The public's First Amendment right of access to judicial proceedings and documents is one that is exceedingly time-sensitive."
He asked that the secrecy issues be resolved before a major series of hearings begins Aug. 16 on defense motions to dismiss the indictment of Jackson.
The appeal notes that Melville has ordered all documents in the case to be filed under seal for his consideration of release later.
To date, he has released only heavily edited portions of motions and search warrants and has kept secret key details of the indictment, the grand jury transcripts and even a motion to change the trial date.