SANTA MARIA, Calif. – The judge who placed a tight lid of secrecy on evidence in Michael Jackson (search)'s molestation trial said Thursday he intends to release virtually every sealed document and also ordered that authorities return the pop star's passport.
Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville (search) said he had accomplished his goal of providing a fair trial to both sides. He was still considering whether to release videos that were shown during the trial, and he allowed time for attorneys to object to unsealing specific documents.
"I have no intention to keep anything sealed except something that might involve privacy matters of a juror," Melville said during a hearing on motions filed during the trial.
Jackson, 46, on Monday won complete acquittal on a 10-count indictment that alleged he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor in 2003, plied the boy with wine and conspired to hold him and his family captive to get them to make a video rebutting a damaging television documentary.
Jackson, who surrendered his passport after his arrest in 2003, has not appeared in public since the verdict. His brother Jermaine said Wednesday in a cable news interview that Jackson was resting, and, on the issue of whether he might move away, said that "we've always had a love for places outside the U.S."
Material that had been sealed in the case included search warrants, sections of motions that were blacked out, questions asked by the jury during deliberations and transcripts of hearings in the judge's chambers.
Melville said the material was so voluminous it probably cannot be released for about a month.
At the request of a lawyer for the news media, Melville agreed to quickly open up the questions that were asked by jurors during deliberations. It was not clear if that would be done Thursday.
The judge also said that if either side wanted to contest release of specific documents he would consider it. He told lawyers to submit any requests to keep matters sealed by June 23.
The judge initially refused to allow the electronic media to copy videos shown during the trial after Jackson defense attorney Robert Sanger argued that there was no legal right for the media to be allowed to sell evidence in the case by broadcasting it worldwide.
Sanger said that the videos included pictures of Jackson's home, which he said have privacy interests.
"There's no right to sell those around the world. This is not a public-interest issue," he said.
Media lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. argued that certain videos, primarily the so-called rebuttal video, had been a focus of the trial and "we think there's a public interest in that."
Boutrous said the judge should release those videos that were central to the case.
Melville said he would give it some thought and issue a ruling later.
The judge acknowledged that he had clashed with the media over First Amendment issues before and during the trial.
"The issues are very important issues," Melville said. "... I had issues to protect, things that needed to be done to create a fair trial for both parties."
He commended Boutrous' work in arguing the media's positions.
Outside court, Boutrous said he was glad the material was to be released.
"But it would have been preferable and constitutionally required to have this information as we went along in the case," he said. "We continue to believe that the First Amendment supported greater access."
On another issue, the judge agreed to return Jackson family memorabilia which had been seized from a New Jersey man who bought the items at an auction of a commercial storage locker's contents.
Edgar Pease III, the lawyer for Henry V. Vaccaro, said his client is now a defendant in a federal lawsuit by Jackson and his sister Janet, who claim the materials were stolen.
None of the items was used as evidence in the Jackson case. Pease showed reporters photographs of the items, which included sexually explicit materials such as adult magazines and videos and dolls similar to evidence presented by the prosecution.
Sanger said outside court that Jackson was entitled to have his property back.
"Mr. Jackson was exonerated. He was not guilty 10 times over. He should be allowed go on with his life," Sanger said.