An attorney representing news organizations alleged yesterday that the judicial controls in the Michael Jackson case are out of control, citing as examples a judge who has imposed a “blanket of secrecy” and lawyers who are speaking in code to keep the public in the dark.
Those comments by attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. drew a sharp rebuke from Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville as he denied the attorney’s request to unseal 47 search warrants, grand jury transcripts and other documents in the child molestation case.
Melville also sealed more motions and search warrants without comment and left open the possibility he might hold a closed-door hearing July 9 on a defense motion to dismiss the 10-count indictment.
Boutrous, who represents a coalition of news organizations and TV networks, said the closed-door hearing would be unprecedented, “an outrage.”
The attorney also expressed concern that the judge might try to close a hearing on a bid by the defense to suppress evidence. That hearing is scheduled to begin Aug. 16 and might require testimony and Jackson’s presence.
Melville routinely has sealed documents, imposed gag orders, discussed legal issues with lawyers in chambers and held telephone conferences with the parties without publicly revealing what was said.
The judge blacked out major portions of the grand jury indictment, including 28 specific acts that are the basis of a conspiracy count against the pop singer.
“Since the last hearing, the blanket of secrecy has become even more complete,” Boutrous told the judge. “The most basic substantial details of the case are being shielded from the public.”
The public and the news media, as the public’s watchdog, has the right to know the exact nature of the charges, the evidence-gathering procedures and whether Jackson is being treated like any other defendant, Boutrous said.
“I’m afraid that this case will get to be known for its secrecy,” he said.
Melville said everything he is doing “is according to the law.”
“The difficulty of seeing that an individual in this country gets a fair trial is exasperating when the individual (himself) is known around the world.”
Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to molesting a boy, now 14, at the entertainer’s Neverland Ranch. Jackson was not in court yesterday, and only a few fans showed up for the 2½-hour court session.
Although there were 13 motions on the calendar, nine of which had to do with sealing legal papers, none was discussed freely or at length.
Attorneys for both sides spoke cryptically, referring to “one particular issue,” “one item” or “those documents.”
“The parties have even started to speak in a secret speech code,” Boutrous said. “I can’t even figure out what they’re talking about.”