In a highly unusual move, the judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case ordered the district attorney to take the stand and explain why a private investigator’s office was searched.
Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville was trying to determine if the videotapes and computer hard drives taken in November 2003 from the office of investigator Bradley Miller violated Jackson’s attorney-client privilege.
The defence said Miller was working for the pop star’s then-lawyer, Mark Geragos.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon said he did not know Miller was working for Geragos when authorities with a search warrant broke into Miller’s office with sledgehammers.
The potentially explosive witness stand confrontation between Sneddon and current Jackson defence attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. had been expected at last Friday’s hearing.
Melville was visibly annoyed when a delay was sought by defence attorney Robert Sanger.
Sanger said he needed more time after receiving transcripts on Thursday of a videotaped law enforcement interview of the mother of the complaining witness made on July 6, 2003, four months before Jackson was arrested. It was one of the items seized from Miller’s office.
The judge said he was concerned about the issue of how much Sneddon knew about the Geragos-Miller association and when he knew it.
“It is an issue that needs to be factually established,” Melville said.
The defence said anything seized from the investigator’s office should be returned and ruled inadmissible at trial.
Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to committing a lewd act upon a child, administering alcohol and conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
In other matters, the judge ruled Jackson does not have to appear for a hearing in August on suppression of evidence that is expected to last up to two weeks.
Meanwhile, an appeals court ordered Melville to reconsider whether the pop star’s $3m (€2.4m) bail is excessive and should be reduced. In a brief order responding to an appeal by defence lawyers, the appeals court sent the issue back to Melville for “further proceedings and findings.”
“The trial court shall have the discretion whether to hold a further evidentiary hearing,” the court said in its two-sentence order.
Criminal defence attorney Steve Cron said the appeals court was sending a message to Melville that he did not adequately explain his decision to maintain Jackson’s bail at $3m (€2.4m).
The ruling from the California 2nd District Court of Appeals in Ventura County cited its own 2001 decision in a case involving George Christie of the Hells Angels. In that case, the court also asked a trial court to make more specific findings for a bail of $1m (€805,000).
Jackson’s lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr., had petitioned Melville to reduce the singer’s bail to no more than $435,000 (€350,500), saying Jackson was not a flight risk and had appeared in court whenever he was ordered to do so. He said the 3 million exceeded any standard bail schedule, but the judge suggested Jackson’s wealth required it.
The penal code section cited in the appellate order makes no mention of a defendant’s wealth as a criteria for setting bail, however, Cron said.
Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen said $3m (€2.4m) was comparable to what Jackson would spend in a weekend in Las Vegas and noted that the pop star has described himself as a billionaire.