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Media seek Jackson search warrant

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon

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Michael Jackson
Should search warrant records in the Michael Jackson case remain sealed?

(CNN) -- Attorneys for several news organizations, including CNN, filed a motion Wednesday asking a judge to unseal records relating to the search of singer Michael Jackson's home.

The motion requests access to all records pertaining to the search warrant used to inspect Jackson's Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California, November 18, two days before the singer turned himself in to authorities and was booked on suspicion of child molestation.

On Tuesday, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon filed a motion to ask Judge Rodney Melville of the Santa Barbara Superior Court for a gag order in the case.

Sneddon cited intense media coverage as a reason to grant the request. He wants the judge to order the singer, his attorneys, the prosecution, investigators and nearly everyone connected to the case to refrain from speaking to the media.

Jackson, 45, was formally charged in December with seven counts of child molestation involving a boy younger than 14 and two counts of administering "an intoxicating agent" to a minor in the same case.

Attorneys for the major news networks and The New York Times cited First Amendment protections and California law in the motion, saying there is a "presumptive 'right' on the part of members of the public 'to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.' "

"[T]here is, as yet, nothing in the public record to suggest that the information in the search warrant presents the sort of compelling or 'overriding' privacy interests that might be sufficient, in exceptional circumstances, to overcome the public right of access and justify a blanket sealing order in this case," the motion says, asking that the records be unsealed immediately after Jackson's arraignment January 16.

Last month, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Clifford Anderson granted a request by Sneddon and Mark Geragos, Jackson's defense lawyer, to seal documents related to the search warrant "until the arraignment in this matter."

"The materials contain confidential and other information that, if made public, would irreparably harm both the prosecution's and defense's respective investigations," the judge wrote December 26.

"The prosecution's and defense's right to conduct their investigations and to a fair trial are overriding interests that overcome the right to public access to the materials," Anderson said.

Meantime, Jackson's passport is back in the custody of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office, a spokesman said Tuesday. Its return was part of an agreement reached with the district attorney's office.

Jackson, who maintains his innocence, is free on $3 million bail.

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