Judge Rejects Request to Toss Jacko Case

A judge Thursday rejected a defense request to throw out the indictment in the Michael Jackson (searchcase, saying prosecutors had presented enough evidence of child molestation and an attempt to silence the alleged victim's family for the case to go forward.

Defense attorneys had argued before Judge Rodney Melville (searchthat the indictment returned by a grand jury should be thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct, improper legal instruction, and insufficient evidence. Melville rejected the claims.

The decision came at the end of one of the most unusual hearings in the case to date. In the latest restriction on the news organizations covering the case, bailiffs Thursday imposed an unusual new rule that reporters and members of the public were prohibited from talking in court, even before the proceedings.

The bailiffs rescinded the rule after a midmorning break in the hearing, saying there had been a misunderstanding. They did not explain what it was.

Reporters have complained in the past about extraordinary secrecy in the case, including lack of access to hearings, the withholding of the identities of Jackson's alleged conspirators, a sweeping gag order imposed on lawyers, and the sealing of all case documents under a judge's order.

While the order to remain quiet was in effect, one fan of Jackson's was tossed by bailiffs for talking to the person next to her moments after she entered the courtroom. Reporters silently scribbled notes to each other, like students in class, as they questioned the legality of the rule.

It was imposed after Santa Maria Times news columnist Steve Corbett spoke with Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Sgt. Ross Ruth about a judge's order barring reporters from conducting interviews during breaks and hearings. Corbett argued that it was hard to say what constituted an interview, and Ruth responded by ordering his deputies to keep everyone silent.

A New York Post reporter tested the boundaries of the new rule twice. He got away with saying, "Good morning," to a colleague out of the earshot of sheriff's deputies. But when the reporter chatted with a prosecutor, a sheriff's deputy hushed them, warning them they could not speak to each other.

In other rulings Thursday, Melville ordered prosecutors to give the defendants the names of confidential witnesses in the case. The judge has ordered that the informants' names be kept secret, but District Attorney Tom Sneddon let one slip. He revealed in court that the alleged victim's stepfather is one of the witnesses. Sneddon realized his error and lightly hit a podium in frustration.

Also Thursday, Melville said he would not allow plans to begin the trial in January to be derailed by complaints from the defense that prosecutors are not sharing evidence quickly enough.

"That would be punishing me for your failure. ... It's not in the interest of anybody to prolong this litigation. I'm very serious about it," Melville said.

The judge also set a Nov. 4 hearing on a defense request to have Sneddon removed from the case, and a Nov. 5 hearing for a defense request that Jackson's bail be lowered.