The judge in the Michael Jackson (search) case has ruled that comedian Jay Leno (search) — listed as a defense witness — can still make jokes about the pop star and his child molestation trial, as long as he stays away from details of his potential testimony, FOX News has learned.
Responding to a request by Leno's attorney, Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville (search) clarified that the gag order would not prevent the comic from making jokes about Jackson in his monologues.
Leno, who may be called to testify about a phone call with Jackson's accuser, has been having other celebrities tell Jackson jokes on his show since being subpoenaed. Media attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. argued for the clarification on grounds Leno's First Amendment rights were violated.
The judge said the gag order barred Leno from talking about the specific areas on which he may testify, but it wouldn't prevent him or anyone else covered by the gag order from commenting generally about Jackson.
He said he would not even try to make Leno stop telling jokes that assume Jackson is guilty.
"I am not attempting to prevent anybody from making a living in the normal way that they make their living," Melville said.
The judge also quipped: "I'd like him to tell good jokes ... but I guess I can't control that."
Jackson attorney Robert Sanger said Leno has made "very cruel jokes" about Jackson that could affect how he might testify and he urged the judge to restrict Leno further.
"We're not putting him out of his business if he can't talk about Michael Jackson for a few weeks," Sanger said.
The judge said he didn't believe such a limit would be constitutional.
The defense is expected to call Leno as part of its effort to show that the accuser's family has sought money from many celebrities including the "Tonight Show" host. According to the defense, Leno called police after talking with the accuser because he thought accuser's family was looking for a "mark."
Sanger noted that Leno's testimony would be favorable to the defense.
The judge said that during questioning, Jackson's lawyers would be free to note that Leno has made jokes about Jackson if they think it's relevant.
Hours before the judge handed down his ruling, "The Tonight Show" host Leno found a way to slip in a laugh at Jackson's expense without opening his mouth.
After arriving "late" for the taping of Thursday's "Tonight Show," Leno stepped out of a black limousine wearing SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas and accompanied by several bodyguards. One of the bodyguards held an open umbrella over Leno's head as the comedian remained silent when asked why he was late.
Earlier in the day, Jackson had arrived late to court wearing pajama bottoms and a T-shirt under a coat. His lawyers explained the pop star had come straight from a hospital where he had been treated for a back injury.
Leno, who has been subpoenaed to testify at Jackson's trial, had asked the court to exempt him from a gag order preventing everyone involved in the case from discussing it.
"They're ruling on my gag order tomorrow to see if I'm allowed to tell Jackson jokes," he told his audience Thursday. "I'm not legally allowed to tell Michael Jackson jokes, but I can still write them."
Then, as he has in recent days, he called on another comedian, Drew Carey, to handle that night's Jackson duty.
"Michael Jackson showed up to court late today wearing his pajama bottoms," Carey told the audience. "You know what? You find the kid wearing the pajama top and we have another court case on our hands."
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search) has said Leno was among a number of celebrities who were approached by the accuser's mother. The defense contends the family tried to bilk Leno and others out of money.
FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.