The secret indictment of Michael Jackson is just the beginning of a legal journey into a maze of grand jury regulations, with the defense poised to challenge the indictment as having been compromised by extraordinary secrecy precautions.
Attorney Mark Geragos, who is forbidden from commenting due to a gag order, has indicated his strategy plan during public hearings. He is expected to argue that the cloak and dagger atmosphere created by authorities intimidated witnesses and grand jurors.
“It’s an interesting argument,” said Santa Clara Law School Professor Gerald Uelman, who succeeded in getting a grand jury dismissed in the O.J. Simpson trial. “I think the courts are sensitive now to the criticism of the way grand juries are conducted.”
Authorities blocked sidewalks, hid witnesses and delivered grand jurors to secret locations in buses with blacked-out windows to keep the proceedings secret. In one case, a photographer outside the building where grand jurors were meeting was ordered to delete photos from his digital camera because they revealed too much of the people entering the building.
On some days, witnesses were required to report to remote locations where they were picked up by authorities and transported to a sheriff’s training center for their testimony.
Geragos telegraphed his plan for a grand jury challenge during arguments before a Santa Barbara judge last week.
“If you believe what is reported, we’ve got people covered up, wrapped in blankets, put into vans driven around like they’re Osama bin Laden’s lieutenants and put into a training facility, then admonished in the procedure and then spirited out into the afternoon sun,” Geragos told Superior Court Judge Clifford Anderson.
“That has had an enormously chilling effect on the defense in terms of all of the witnesses,” said Geragos.
Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson called the defense plan “not a standard motion … And Geragos is going to be pushing the envelope here. But I’ve never before heard of a hide-and-seek grand jury.”
An indictment was returned Wednesday, but authorities would not confirm that had happened even after major news organizations reported it. The document remained sealed and its details unknown.