Jackson search warrant documents sealed
Judge: Aim is to ensure fairness to both sides
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The judge in Michael Jackson's child-molestation case ordered documents relating to a search of the singer's Neverland ranch sealed Friday, in part because they include information about another child's allegation of abuse.
An order from Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, who presided over Jackson's arraignment on child molestation charges last week, said the search warrant affidavit and most other documents will remain sealed to ensure "that the trial is fair both for the defense and the prosecution."
Court papers said documents used to support the search warrant include quotes from an investigation into allegations made by a boy 10 years ago that the singer molested him.
"The affidavit contains reports of the statements of a minor about events of a sexual nature," said the order, noting that the affidavit was 82 pages long and was supplemented by two tape recordings.
"It contains the related reports of his family. A portion of these reports result from statements made in counseling.
"The affidavit quotes from earlier investigations of a minor with whom the defendant made a civil settlement approximately ten years ago."
In that case, Jackson reportedly settled with the boy and his family for millions of dollars, and formal charges were never filed. Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who is prosecuting the current case, also investigated the 1993 allegations against Jackson.
The judge concluded that "widespread dissemination of evidence, which may or may not be admissible at trial, can only complicate the process of selecting an unbiased jury.
"The most glaringly obvious fact about the present case is the significant media and public interest that it is generating. 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," Melville noted, referring to the live television coverage by several networks of an employee from the district attorney's office walking with the complaint to the clerk of court's office on December 18.
The judge also wrote that it's necessary to keep most of the search warrant documents sealed to protect the privacy interests of the minors mentioned in them and to maintain an unbiased jury pool.
Melville said he will grant a partial release of other documents used to support the search warrant but did not indicate when that would happen.
He also said he cannot predict when any portion of the affidavit or other documents might be released.
Various media outlets, including CNN, have asked that the sealed documents be publicly released.
Jackson has pleaded not guilty to seven felony counts of child molestation and two counts of supplying an intoxicating agent to a child under 14.
The next hearing in the matter is scheduled for February 13, during which a date for a preliminary hearing will be set.
In other documents filed Friday, Melville reissued a protective order in the case, forbidding attorneys, court employees and anyone else connected with the case from discussing evidence or possible testimony, among other things.
The judge did, however, indicate an interest in permitting "public statements to be made for the purpose of helping to quell unfounded rumors that may circulate with regard to this case."
He suggested that if either the defense or prosecution needs to make a statement in the meantime, representatives from both sides should discuss the matter in a conference call or by letter.