Child abuse claims justified Jackson search, says judge

CHILD molestation allegations by a 12-year-old boy provided authorities with legal justification for a massive search of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch last year, a judge ruled.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville short-circuited a plan by Jackson's lawyers to call multiple witnesses in an effort to show that prosecutors had insufficient information to justify the invasion of Jackson's estate last November.

Defence attorney Steve Cochran argued that authorities "relied on a lot of pontificating" from people without sufficient expertise.

"The point was to smear my client, to make it appear there was a menace to society out there whose house needed to be searched immediately," he said.

Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen said the only thing that could invalidate the search would be significant misrepresentations on the search warrant. Those, he said, were not present, and the judge agreed.

Judge Melville concluded: "There was probable cause to believe Michael Jackson had committed the offences based on the statements of the minor witness."

Judge Melville agreed to let the defence challenge individual items seized in the search and adjourned the hearings to allow lawyers draft a list of items they want suppressed as evidence. When the hearing resumes today, Jackson's lawyers are expected to call more witnesses as part of their effort to get evidence obtained from the office of private investigator Bradley Miller thrown out.

On Tuesday, the defence made a surprise allegation - that Stanley J Katz, the psychologist who first took the boy's claims about Jackson to authorities, had also been treating Miller. Katz declined to discuss his relationship with Miller, claiming confidentiality, which the judge upheld.

Katz had been called in an effort to determine whether Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon and other authorities were aware Miller worked for Jackson's former lawyer, Mark Geragos, when evidence was seized from Miller's office. They say they had no such knowledge. Katz said he never discussed the Jackson case with Miller and did not tell authorities that Miller was working for Geragos.

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.

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