(AP) Michael Jackson wants “a celebrity exception to the First Amendment” that will keep much of his child molestation case secret, a media lawyer argued in a motion filed Tuesday.
Theodore Boutrous Jr., answering a defense motion defending secrecy and deriding press coverage, accused Jackson’s lawyers of engaging in a “misguided tirade” against the press while displaying “insensitivity to basic First Amendment values.”
Boutrous challenged Jackson’s claim that he wants the same rights as other defendants.
“What he is really seeking is a blanket celebrity exception to the First Amendment that would turn the notion of public access upside down,” said Boutrous, who represents a coalition of news organizations including The Associated Press.
Boutrous was responding to a vitriolic motion filed by the defense Monday which portrayed reporters as voyeurs with no legitimate interests in covering the court system.
“The interest in this case is more voyeuristic and entertainment related than it is an interest of an audience concerned with matters of government or public affairs,” said the Jackson motion signed by attorney Robert Sanger. He urged the California 2nd District Court of Appeal to refuse a request for an expedited hearing and perhaps to delay the entire issue of press access until the trial is over.
Boutrous responded that the media “are not seeking to create a ‘circus’ … but rather are simply trying to report on official judicial records and proceedings.
“As the official record stands right now,” Boutrous said, “the public does not even know the actual allegations that form the basis of the felony indictment.”
What is known is that Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. The 28 acts alleged to have occurred are sealed, as are the names of alleged co-conspirators.
Grand jury transcripts detailing the case against Jackson are sealed along with search warrants, a motion to suppress evidence and most of the motion to dismiss charges.
In a surprising move, the trial judge, represented by the Santa Barbara County counsel, filed a motion of his own arguing that the public already knows everything it needs to know about the case and keeping the rest secret is the way to give Jackson a fair trial.
“The public may know little more about the facts of this case than that Mr. Jackson has been indicted on serious charges and that a jury will be asked to consider the evidence that may be presented to it and determine his guilt or innocence based upon that evidence,” the brief said.
“But that’s how to ensure a fair trial,” it concluded.
The argument was a verbatim repetition of one made earlier by the prosecution in its own attack on allowing press coverage of all aspects of the case.
The brief filed for Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville claimed that an expedited hearing would not allow enough time for issues to be “fully developed and briefed” before the September trial date.
However, Chief Assistant County Counsel Stephen D. Underwood acknowledged elsewhere in the brief that the case, “while set for trial in September, likely will not proceed until either the end of this year or the beginning of 2005.”
Boutrous said there would be no added burden in expediting the appeal because transcripts of all hearings have already been produced.
“Mr. Jackson’s arguments amount to nothing more than a misguided tirade that mocks the press’ traditional role as the surrogate for the public in scrutinizing and serving as a check on the criminal justice system,” Boutrous wrote in his response.
He said that Jackson’s accusations of misconduct against the prosecutor require disclosure of supporting documents.
“Mr. Jackson seems to contemplate that he should be able to launch an all-out attack on the integrity of the grand jury and district attorney and have the matter resolved by the court based largely on secret evidence and arguments,” Boutrous said. “This runs counter to basic First Amendment principles.”