Published July 20, 2004
LOS ANGELES – Denouncing the motives of the news and entertainment media, Michael Jackson's (search) lawyers asked an appellate court to refuse an expedited hearing on a media access challenge and maintain the secrecy now surrounding his child molestation case.
The defense team suggested Monday that there would be no harm if information currently sealed in the Jackson case was not released to the public until after the trial was over.
Although defense lawyers acknowledged that appellate courts have consistently supported First Amendment rights (search) of access to court cases, they insisted that Jackson's case should be treated differently because it involves a superstar.
They also said the case is not important enough to the administration of justice to merit the attention of the appeals court.
"The interest in this case is more voyeuristic and entertainment related than it is an interest of an audience concerned with matters of government or public affairs," said the motion.
"One can imagine other cases which might have a direct impact on the public welfare, national politics or international relations. This is not one," said the motion signed by attorney Robert Sanger.
"The circus created by the news media in this case has defied all rationality," the motion said. "... Mr. Jackson's innocence has been lost in the media need to generate ratings, sell newspapers and garner mass audiences."
The motion suggested that the press wait until the trial is over to gain access to the court file.
"Once the verdict and judgment are final, most of the court's concerns will no longer control," they said.
First Amendment lawyer Douglas Mirell said the defense seems oblivious to the fact that "old news is no news," and that the U.S. Supreme Court (search) has repeatedly held that prior restraint on the press is the most serious and intolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.
"This bespeaks a level of ignorance that, whether deliberate or inadvertent, is shocking," said Mirell.
Attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr., who filed the media appeal, said, "This brief shows a shocking insensitivity to basic First Amendment values."
Boutrous pointed out that Jackson's lawyers have filed motions alleging an unprecedented abuse of power by the prosecution in bringing the case against their client but most of the motions remain sealed.
"The public has an interest in scrutinizing those briefs to test the allegations," said Boutrous.
The defense also complained that consideration of a press appeal will be too time consuming for the lawyers, the court and its staff.
"They're saying we shouldn't have a right to appeal because it will get in their way," said Boutrous, who is representing a coalition of news media including The Associated Press.
Mirell called the time consumption claim "ludicrous," saying the court is only marginally involved in the appeal process. The prosecutors have an office of employees to handle such an appeal, he said, and the defense is represented by a team of three law firms.
The motion filed on behalf of the legal team headed by Thomas Mesereau Jr. went so far as to complain because, on occasion, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville (search) has allowed Boutrous to sit at the counsel table in court while arguing a motion. They called this "an almost unprecedented accommodation of the press."
Boutrous said he didn't see the situation as unusual, but added, "I'm willing to sit anywhere."
The motion complained that Jackson, who "faces the fight of his life for his liberty ... is surrounded by wild rumors and salacious allegations. Because he is a celebrity, the press and entertainment media hang on every allegation and turn it into a lucrative entertainment venture. "
The lawyers said Jackson "is still entitled to the same due process rights as anyone else who comes before the court in a criminal case."