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Judge orders Jackson documents sealed
( 2004-01-24 14:34) (Agencies)

The judge presiding over Michael Jackson's child molestation case ordered 82 pages of documents and related tape recordings sealed Friday because they contain "sensitive information" about a boy's claims that Jackson sexually abused him.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said he could not anticipate any time before the trial that the material, related to a search conducted at Jackson's Neverland Ranch, could be made public.

His ruling gave only hints of the contents: a young's boy's accounts of what allegedly happened, interviews with his family, statements that came out during the child's psychological counseling and information about another case 10 years ago in which Jackson was accused of molestation.

The evidence was contained in an affidavit in which authorities explained their reasons for seeking a search warrant for Neverland Ranch.

News organizations had argued for the release of the material, but Melville said that would violate the parties' privacy rights and "complicate the process of selecting an unbiased jury."

Jackson has pleaded innocent to seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent, reportedly wine, to get the boy to comply. He is free on $3 million bail.

Melville indicated he had no choice but to seal the documents given the extensive public interest Jackson's celebrity is bringing to the case.

"Michael Jackson is a figure recognized around the world and the events surrounding execution of the search warrant, his arrest and even the file stamping of the felony complaint have received widespread publicity," the judge wrote.

Attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr., who represents media organizations seeking to unseal the documents, said he was looking into ways to challenge the judge's decision. In the meantime, he said he hoped edited search warrants and related materials could be released as early as next week.

Also Friday, Melville addressed the issue of a gag order preventing attorneys for both sides from discussing the case publicly. He said both the defense and prosecution had submitted proposals to allow public statements to help quell unfounded rumors in the case.

Melville said he would revisit the issue at a hearing on Feb. 13.

In denying news media requests to lift the gag order, Melville chastised both sides for statements made before the order was in place.

He noted District Attorney Tom Sneddon once called Jackson "Wacko Jacko" during an appearance on Court TV, a remark for which the prosecutor later apologized. And he noted Jackson attorney Mark Geragos said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that the child's allegations amounted to "a scam" and "a shakedown."

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