SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Child molestation allegations by a 12-year-old boy provided authorities with legal justification for a massive search of Michael Jackson's (search) Neverland Ranch last year, a judge ruled, rejecting defense efforts to challenge the search as illegal.
In his ruling Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville (search) short-circuited a plan by Jackson's lawyers to call multiple witnesses in an effort to show that prosecutors had insufficient information to justify the invasion of Jackson's estate last November.
Defense attorney Steve Cochran had argued that authorities "relied on a lot of pontificating" from people without sufficient expertise.
"The point was to smear my client, to make it appear there was a menace to society out there whose house needed to be searched immediately," he argued.
Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen said the only thing that could invalidate the search would be significant misrepresentations on the search warrant. Those, he said, were not present, and the judge agreed.
Melville conceded that there may have been "some relevant omissions," but he concluded: "There was probable cause to believe Michael Jackson had committed the offenses based on the statements of the minor witness."
The judge said he was basing his ruling on extensive written briefs, most of which he has sealed from public view.
Loyola University Law School Professor Laurie Levenson said the ruling probably was not a surprise to the defense since such motions are difficult to win.
"It doesn't hurt to try," she said, "and it preserves the matter for any future appeal."
Melville did agree to let defense attorneys challenge individual items seized during the search at Neverland Ranch (search) and recessed the hearings Wednesday to give lawyers time to draft a list of items they want suppressed as evidence.
When the hearing resumes on Thursday, Jackson's lawyers are expected to call more witnesses as part of their effort to get evidence obtained from the office of private investigator Bradley Miller thrown out.
On Tuesday, the defense made a surprise allegation — that Stanley J. Katz, the psychologist who first took the boy's claims about Jackson to authorities, had also been treating Miller.
Katz declined to discuss his relationship with Miller, claiming a therapist's privilege of confidentiality, which the judge eventually upheld.
Brian Oxman, the defense attorney who made the surprise allegation, wound up being fined $1,000 by the judge when he persisted in bringing up issue after the judge ruled it was out of bounds.
"Bradley Miller is a very special patient of yours, is he not, Dr. Katz?" asked Oxman.
"If he were a patient, I could not disclose that because of the privilege," Katz replied.
Katz had been called Tuesday in an effort to determine whether Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon and other authorities were aware that Miller worked for Jackson's former lawyer, Mark Geragos, when evidence was seized from Miller's office. They say they had no such knowledge.
Katz, who acknowledged only that he had worked with Miller on family court cases, said he never discussed the Jackson case with Miller and did not tell authorities that Miller was working for Geragos.
Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail.