Prosecutors Use Media, Then Blasts Them? MJEOL Bullet #142 The Associated Press is reporting that prosecutors in the Michael Jackson case are fighting to have the gag order remain in place, with no one being able to officially respond to the many asinine and inane reports that have been circulating in the press. What the gag order was supposed to do and what its actually going are two different things. The gag order, in a perfect world, was supposed to protect both the accuser and the defendant from tainting the jury pool in the case. Nothing could be further from the truth. News reports saturating the airwaves, which dissect every development–from the sleaziest tabloid up to the most respectable news organizations–are at every turn; a great number of them filled with conjecture, spewing their negative slants and subliminally/consciously tainting any possible jury pool. What is bizarre about the gag order is the fact that it was furthered by a prosecutor who has himself ran to the media more than once and talked about both this so-called case and the 1993 case. In a reply to a challenge of the smothering gag order imposed in the case, according to the report, Sneddon claims:
the court-imposed gag order was important to maintain an untainted pool of potential jurors. They also noted the Jackson case has generated intense public interest and is a constant focus of the tabloid and mainstream media. “What is reported as ‘fact’ becomes the nucleus of intense speculation, conjecture and discussion among commentators, particularly in the tabloid media, and the audience they appeal to,” District Attorney Thomas Sneddon and Deputy District Attorney Gerald Franklin said in their letter to the court, filed Thursday. (see article)
Notice how he cites the tabloid media as a reason to keep the gag order in place? The tabloid media have printed all sorts of ridiculous stories, more often than not, completely trashing Jackson with unfounded rumors or complete lies. Some say they have also been a bastion for supporters of the accuser to leak information from the family. And most of the tabloid stories claim to get their information from sources close to the accusers family, sources in the prosecutors office or sources in law enforcement. So what the gag order effectively does is allow them to claim all manners of ridiculous stories but doesnt allow Jackson or his attorneys to respond to them; thereby, tainting the jury pool. But wait! It gets even more preposterous! Both Sneddon and his underling, Gerald Franklin, claim they initially sought the gag order in response to Mark Geragoss comments to the media. What they leave out is that Geragos repeatedly told media that he wouldnt comment on the case unless or until charges were filed against Jackson. Geragoss first interview was with Larry King Live on Dec 18 2003, the day Sneddon filed charged against Jackson. This is also AFTER Sneddon had already given two news conferences, two interviews, hired a PR crisis management firm, released a press packet with frequently asked questions, and set up a media website! The current district attorney is allowed to infect the jury pool, but when Jacksons attorneys start to respond, he runs to the judge and requests a sweeping gag order so Jacksons lawyers cant talk. Some media say these actions are incredibly hypocritical. When news first broke of Sneddon seeking a gag order, some law experts were disturbed while others were disgusted with the incredible hypocrisy of it all. Appearing on Fox news show On the Record with Greta van Sustren (early Jan 2004), lawyers Ted Williams and Bernie Grimm, outright called him a hypocrite and blasted him for already prosecuting and convicting Jackson in the press. During the interview, Williams criticized Sneddon saying:
What a hypocrite! The hypocrisy! This is the same man who went out to Neverland Ranch with 70 vehicles [sic] with the press in tow. This is a man who held two news conferencesand by the way, I counted. At one of the news conferences, he answered 123 questions. And all of a sudden, now he wants to stop Geragos from speaking when hes spoken out?! And by the way, remember, when you charge an individual, theres a charging document. You put everything in that charging document you want. And now youre trying to shut Geragos up? This is ridiculous! (hear audio)
Bernie Grimm also echoed these comments and actually quotes from the words Sneddon said during one of his press conferences:
Let me put it this way, Sneddon is a hypocrite. And let me quote a great lawyer, I just recently heard about this. This is beyond hypocrisy. Hypocrisy knows no bounds. Sneddon gets his charging document out saying that Jacksons charge with lewd and lascivious conduct. So the entire public knows that. And not only that, but in his news conference on November 19, he says My feelings about this case and Im sad that theres another victim out there. I feel bad for the family. I feel bad for the victim. Beyond that, I think its sad for all the people involved in this thing quite frankly. I feel bad for the victim? Well what happened to the trial? Is this, is it already over with? Is this, is Jackson already guilty? I mean this is, once he got his version out now he wants Geragos to stop talking.
Heres the point: Sneddon already said that Jackson is guilty. Mark Geragos needs to respond to that fairly if he has evidence to support the fact this is a shakedown. I dont think theres anything wrong for him to say that. Hes saying its unfair.
Lets just recap the actions of this prosecutor who is now so fixated on upholding the gag order and blasting the media, shall we? 1. He held a press conference Nov 19 2003 in which he joked openly with the news media about everything from Santa Barbaras local economy to Jackson turning himself in. During that conference, both he and current Sheriff Jim Anderson answered more than a few questions. He even claimed to have secured the search and arrest warrants several weeks prior to that Nov 19 news conference:
And, in fact, we were going to execute these warrants several weeks ago but had to put it off because of all the visitors we had come up here, the 50,000 people who came in for Halloween. So it really has nothing to do with his album or whatever else he’s doing in his life. … We don’t track him. So I think it is important for people to know that we’ve been ready to do this for some period of time and it was just an operational thing within the sheriff’s department because of the tremendous manpower, person-power that they had to put out for the Halloween thing (see transcript).
Yeah the Halloween thing…yeah sure. Thats what kept them from raiding Jacksons home? Those must have been some rabid trick-or-treaters! I dont think so. It will be interesting to see the dates on these search warrants which would tell exactly when they were obtained. Could this be why prosecutors requested that they remain sealed from the public? Time will tell. He also referred to the 1993 accuser as the victim possibly tainting the jury pool. He has no idea if that accuser really as a victim because the accusers story was yet to be challenged in a court of law. In fact, before the recent law changes in California, two grand juries around the 1993 case refused to hand down an indictment for lack of evidence, sources say. Now, all it takes is the word of an accuser to further a case. Not only that, he also referred to the current accuser as a cooperating victim, as if the case has already gone to court and has been decided. He said:
My feelings about this is — and I’m sad that there’s another victim out there. I feel bad for the family, I feel bad for the victim. Beyond that, I think it’s a sad thing for all the people involved in this thing, quite frankly.
Hes sad that theres another victim? Remember, this is a prosecutor talking to a worldwide audience. Prosecutors have a completely different obligation when it comes to law. They are suppose to seek the truth and try not to taint the jury pool in the process. Saying you feel bad for the victim is highly prejudicial and puts the current DAs comments about the gag order into perspective. According to a Findlaw.com article dated Fri Jan 2 2004, Julie Hilden writes:
Prosecutors are not supposed to personally vouch for a defendant’s guilt even at trial, let alone outside it; it’s the evidence, not the prosecutor’s opinion, to which the jury must look. And personally vouching — as Sneddon has done — for a defendant’s guilt with respect to a prior offense for which he was never criminally charged, is arguably an even lower blow. (see article)
Hilden goes on to comment about the jocular nature with which the prosecutor held that first news conference:
He has joked at a press conference that the Jackson case will at least inject money into California’s failing economy. And he has referred to Jackson on Court TV as “a guy everybody calls ‘jack0 wack0.'”
2. He publicly vouched for the credibility of the accusers family. Vouching for the credibility of any accuser is a huge no-no for a prosecutor. Hilden points this out in her article:
He commented, “I think it would be really unfair to be talking about these people as if they want to get even with Michael Jackson or something like that.” In making this comment, of course, Sneddon implicitly tried to discredit Jackson’s likely defense — that the alleged victim’s family seeks money — long before trial has even begun. The prosecution will have plenty of time to try to discredit the defense at trial; it need not get a head start with the potential jury pool before trial.
Publicaly vouching for the credibility of the accuser in a public forum, and now hes the one complaining about the media?? Ridiculous. 3. Sneddon gave two interviews to members of the media before he changed course and requested a gag order: one with tabloid reporter Diane Dimond and another with CNNs Art Harris. Dimonds interview aired on Court TV Nov 20 2003, and the interview with Harris aired on Nov 26 2003. Both these interviews were before they initially filed charges against Jackson; just a few days after police ransacked his Neverland Ranch. In the first interview with Dimond, he claimed they were going to handle the Jackson case like any other case. Yeah sure. As Hilden pointed out, he seemed to have tried to vouch for the accuser and family. Remember, this is a sit-down interview with the very same reporter that just so happened (yeah right!) to be outside Neverland with a camera crew ready to roll when police invaded the Ranch:
“They’re aware of the risks involved, and they’ve still cooperated with us,” Sneddon said. “I think it would be really unfair to be talking about these people as if they want to get even with Michael Jackson or something like that.” (see article)
He thinks its unfair to claim the family wants to get even with Jackson, yet he can publicly claim Jacksons guilty by calling the accuser a victim?? Give me a break! Some observers have noted that this is still more evidence the gag order Sneddon requestedand his pot shots at the mediaare ridiculous at best and a desperate attempt to shield the accusers family from media scrutiny akin to the amount paid to Jackson, at worst. Continue to page 2 >> [pagebreak] The second interview was given to CNNs Art Harris. Sources say Harris is another prosecution sympathizer in the media. During that interview, he told Harris that he felt bad about his jocular behavior at the Nov 19 2003 news conference because he didnt want anyone to think hes making light of a serious crime:
Sneddon specifically referred to a glib comment, welcoming the media circus surround the Jackson case because it would put money into the struggling California economy. “I think the criticism was valid, I think that to some extent [the comment] was inappropriate,” he said. “I feel bad about it because I think I should’ve known better. I feel bad about it because somebody would assume that I’m making light of a thing where I know there’s a serious crime, and that there are victims that have been hurt, and family” (see article).
This would be at least the 3rd time hes publicly called the accuser a victim and implied that Jackson is guilty; and all before he even filed initial charges against him! Now, tell me, how in hell are these comments meant to maintain an untainted jury pool like he now claims to the state Supreme Court?? They dont. 4. Prosecutors hire/accept services from a public relations firm. On Dec 16 2003, it was reported that prosecutors hired a private public relations firm, Tellem Worldwide, to handle phone calls and other contact with the media. This move shocked a number of professional lawyers and legal professors, as well as a number of legal experts. Brian Oxman, long-time Jackson family attorney, called his move at the time an affront to common sense:
“It is an affront to common sense, if not professional ethics, for a DA to have a celebrity crisis management team, which is what this new PR firm styles itself as being,” Oxman said. “We are now only interested in image and making the DA look good. First we had a press conference where the DA told jokes, and now we have a PR firm the DA has hired that also represents the Cartoon Network.” (see article)
According to their website at the time, Tellem also represents clients such as Nickelodeon, Warner Bros. Online and Universal Studios Hollywood. Sources say Tellem does a lot more for the DA than just answer phone calls from the media given the way in which pro-prosecution stories pop-up in the media. 5. Prosecutors create a media website. They even went so far as to halt filing charges, initially, against Jackson to have a media website set up. The site currently in operation is only accessible to approved members of the media. Court filings and statements from prosecutors for the media are located at the site. Does someone who think parties in this case should be gagged, normally set up a media website? Or take their own time in filing charges until after that site is up?? Ted Williams, on that Jan 2004 episode of On the Record, also commented on this:
And not only that, he is the one who came out and said Im setting up a website for the media. And so, and not only does he set the website up for the media, but this is the same personand this is what is significant about thishes trying to stop the complete Jackson machinery: the family, Katherine Jackson, the father Jackson, Jermaine Jackson all of em from talking!
6. Sneddon holds a second press conference Dec 18 2003. After he finally filed charges against Jackson, Sneddon held another press conference in which he discussed the charges against him. During that news conference, he denied that he had a weak case, implying that he had evidence against Jackson. This is also a form of tainting a possible jury pool according to some observers. After news broke of the summary memo from LA Child Services, which completely cleared Jackson of any molestation back in Feb 2003, Sneddon insulted the agencys competence and challenged the veracity of their investigation. Sneddon publicly attempted to diminish the importance of their findings. He went so far in putting down the agency that he later had to apologize. At the Dec 18 conference he said:
What I said was that our department and the sheriff’s department was fully aware of the report and its contents. We are also fully aware of the conditions under which the statements were given. And we are aware that to call that an investigation is a misnomer. It was an interview, plain and simple. And that’s all it was. And we’re not concerned about it in terms of any impact on our case.
Well it turns out that it was much much more than just an interview, plain and simple. According to sources at thesmokinggun.com, there is a huge case file behind that LA Child Services investigation. So it seems it was definitely more than just an interview as Sneddon claimed. But the point is the public ridicule of another agencys investigation when it doesnt swing your way is another example of a possibly jury pool-tainting act. Yet prosecutors still have the nerve to cite two interviews by Jacksons former lawyer as reason for a sweeping gag order. Ridiculous. 7. Sources Tipped media off to Nov 18 police raid. In MJEOL Bullet #141, information concerning how tabloid reporter Diane Dimond knew to be outside of Jacksons house at a particular date and time–waiting on the police to arrive before they ransacked Jacksons homewas discussed. This cozy relationship with the media, concerning the breaking of the this story was discussed in a Nov 20 2003 HollywoodReporter.com article. That report stated:
Dimond flew from New York to Santa Barbara on Tuesday [Nov 18 2003], arriving at 2 a.m., enough time to get three hours of sleep and have one of her two camera crews stationed at Neverland when the police arrived at 6 a.m. She was at the local police station with the other crew when the raid commenced just in case Jackson was arrested, but she soon sped back over to Neverland. (see article)
Was the tip Dimond got telling her to be outside Neverland so she could cover this raid, a way to maintain an untainted jury pool? Hell no. With all the cozy relations between prosecutors, law enforcement and the media, it would seem an affront to them that prosecutors are so dead set against them having access to real information directly from the parties involved. Or could that be a frightening proposition for prosecutors? As long as Jackson was being raked over the coals without so much as a hint of reports about prosecutorial misconduct, the shady past of the accusing family, or questions about this case, prosecutors didnt appear to have trouble with the absence of a gag order. As soon as negative articles and comments started to surface about prosecutors motives and the accusing familys past, it suddenly seemed imperative that a possibly unconstitutional gag order be put in place. The state Supreme Court is to receive a written response from media attorney Theodore Boutrous by Friday (May 14 2004). Boutrous called the comments by Sneddon in support of the gag order an attack and usual. He says:
“The district attorney has staked out an extraordinary and extreme position that flatly violates the First Amendment,” Boutrous said. “The notion that public information should be limited in cases where public interest is the highest offends First Amendment values.”
Some observers say, however, that the prosecutors dont want the media questioning their actions, decisions, or the familys past, and thats the only reason why they are fighting so desperately to keep this apparently useless gag order in place. -MJEOL