Michael Jackson

Jacko DA Could Be Tossed from Case

Rumors swirled that District Attorney Tom Sneddon, arch enemy of Michael Jackson and the one trying to convict Jacko of child molestation, will be asked to step down from the case Tuesday after his very public showdown with the defense attorney and judge in a Santa Maria court.

Sneddon was snarling at Jackson lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. on the stand Monday in the hearing about his investigation tactics and looked like a man on a witch hunt, according to many who witnessed the legal duel.

But it was the stern scolding by Judge  Rodney Melville about Sneddon's combative answers that sparked speculation among case insiders he might be replaced by someone with less of a vendetta.

The sources, who were in the courtroom Monday, say it's highly unusual for a judge to publicly rebuke a district attorney that way.

No matter how the testimony goes, Jackson has bigger problems when it's over.

Last week, sources said, his brother Randy, now in charge of Jackson's daily operations, abruptly canceled ongoing payments to former employees of Michael who have concrete, signed deals with the pop star.

The result may be lawsuits. Already, I am told, former manager Dieter Wiesner is "very angry" and speaking to his attorneys. Wiesner, who still runs Jackson's licensing deals in Germany, was receiving $25,000 a month per an agreement reached in the last few months. But last week, sources said, Randy Jackson cut off the payments without explanation.

Also cut off were installment payments to Marc Schaffel, a Jackson loyalist. Jackson owes Schaffel money for his video work on the "rebuttal" films made for Fox Television in the winter of 2003, and for work on the video "What More Can I Give." Schaffel and Wiesner both believe that Michael Jackson has no idea that their payments have stopped.

Both Wiesner and Schaffel could be defense witnesses for Jackson in his child molestation and conspiracy case. They are each unnamed, unindicted co-conspirators in the case.

As I reported last week, Jackson is house hunting in Miami but doesn't have the money for a down payment on the sort of mansion he would desire. According to his agreements with Bank of America — where he has loans of $350 million — Jackson is precluded from borrowing any more money. Speculation is that he or Randy may be cutting back on making his agreed upon payments, either because he's running low on cash or trying to put enough together to have the down payment for a new home.

Schaffel and Wiesner did not return calls. I'm told that after court today, Jackson attorney Steve Cochran will try to speak with Michael about the missed payments and warn him that legal action could be forthcoming. Believe it or not, my sources say Jackson allows little time for his lawyers to actually speak to him on any subject.

Meantime, Jackson continues to rack up huge bills — often not paid for months or more — at hotels such as the posh Beverly Hills Hotel, L'Ermitage, and the Four Seasons, rather than return to his sprawling Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara.

The price tag on continuing to live in a kind of financial denial is between $4,000 and $5,000 a month.