The judge in the Michael Jackson child abuse case today set a tentative trial date of September 13 and heard arguments on whether to reduce the pop star’s bail but did not issue an immediate ruling.
Jackson was not in court in the Californian town of Santa Maria and few fans turned out for the hearing.
His lawyer Thomas Mesereau objected to setting the trial date, saying the prosecution had not supplied the defence with all the evidence in the case.
He said prosecutors have discussed forensic testing but did not disclose what was being tested or the manner of testing so the defence could decide whether it considers the tests valid.
Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said he understood the trial date might be changed but wanted to set “a bull’s-eye that we’re shooting at here.”
“Somebody has to say, This is the goal, this is where we’re going,” he said.
In arguing for the lowering of Jackson’s €2.5m bail, Mesereau noted his client’s charitable contributions, lack of criminal record and substantial non-moveable assets in Santa Barbara County, including his Neverland Ranch.
He said the severity of the alleged crime coupled with bail precedents for other crimes suggest Jackson’s bail should be €355,500 at most.
Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen noted that bail for a criminal defendant usually is many times greater than his total assets. He noted that Jackson is a self-declared billionaire and his bail amounted to only three-thousandths of his assets.
Zonen said the bail amount was “roughly comparable to what he would spend in a weekend in Las Vegas.”
The prosecution has said in court documents that a large bail amount was necessary to be sure Jackson does not flee the country.
“Mr Jackson is known and adored – ’adored’ is not too strong a word – in many of the countries of Europe, the Near East and Africa,” the prosecution said in a motion. “Several of those countries do not have extradition treaties with the United States.”
Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent, alcohol, and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
Jackson’s bail was among several issues being considered at the hearing.
:: Lawyers representing news organisations, including The Associated Press, were set to argue to unseal the entire grand jury indictment. Melville excised from the indictment the names of five alleged unindicted co-conspirators as well as 28 overt acts that prosecutors contend are incriminating.
:: The defence wants access to about 400 items seized by prosecutors and interview transcripts with dozens of witnesses. The motion asked the judge to intervene to make sure the defendants are allowed to fully examine the evidence.
:: The prosecution wants to keep sealed a mysterious motion accusing someone in the case of contempt of court. An edited version has been released without identifying anyone.
Lawyer Joseph Tacopina, who represents two former Jackson employees, said he believes that the grand jury will indict his clients, Vincent Amen and Frank Tyson. He refused to let them appear before the grand jury because he thought the proceedings would be unfair, he said.
Tyson, 23, was Jackson’s personal assistant. Tacopina said he believes prosecutors might accuse him of threatening to kill the younger brother of Jackson’s alleged victim if he told authorities Jackson had given the boy alcohol.
He said prosecutors may accuse Amen, 24, who worked for Jackson’s production company, of holding the family at Jackson’s Neverland estate against their will.