Originally created 03/27/04

Media access again issue in Michael Jackson molestation case



SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Media access in the Michael Jackson child molestation case came to the forefront again as prospective grand jurors arrived at court.

An attorney representing news organizations, including The Associated Press, called on Superior Court Judge Clifford R. Anderson III to vacate or modify his order banning journalists from photographing or speaking to prospective grand jurors.

As prospective jurors headed into the assembly room Thursday, reporters and photographers zeroed in on the jurors' spouses - not mentioned in Anderson's ruling. Sheriff's officials in turn handed the media copies of the order, which warned that violations may be contempt of court, a misdemeanor.

The attorney, Theodore Boutrous Jr., made his request in an emergency motion, which also asks Anderson to hold a hearing on his order Friday or as early as possible.

According to the motion, the order was unconstitutional because it "purports to bind and prohibit speech and conduct of the world at large," and was issued without notice or an opportunity for opponents to be heard.

It also faulted the order, issued Wednesday, for precluding witnesses from discussing their testimony, and described the prohibitions against photography as overbroad and impermissibly vague.

At one point Thursday, Deputy Scott Hunter approached a TV cameraman and asked to see his footage to make sure it didn't show the faces of prospective grand jurors.

Michael A. Mariant, a freelance still photographer on assignment for the AP, said Hunter ordered him to delete six or seven photos from his digital camera because they revealed too much of the people entering the building.

One of the prospective grand jurors was the wife of Eric Beltz, 28, of Santa Barbara. "I was ribbing her about it being the Michael Jackson case," he said.

Beltz hoped his wife would not be chosen because of the time commitment but said she would serve.

A summons obtained by AP said grand jurors may have to serve up to 90 days.

Jackson, whose Neverland estate is in Santa Barbara County, was charged by the district attorney late last year with seven counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under age 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent to the child. Jackson has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors are now seeking a grand jury indictment, which would mean they would not have to present evidence at a preliminary hearing to determine if the case should go to trial.