[b]Media lawyer rapped in Jackson case[/b] Fri 25 June, 2004 21:58 By Dan Whitcomb SANTA MARIA, California (Reuters) – A lawyer for news organisations covering the Michael Jackson child molestation case has urged the court to lift a “blanket of secrecy” over the proceedings, prompting a sharp rebuke from the judge. The exchange came on Friday during a hearing in which Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville sealed another series of documents in the sensational case and said he would not even consider making grand jury transcripts public until mid-July. Melville, who has conducted the case under such extraordinary secrecy that even the exact nature of the charges against Jackson remains unclear, was irked when media lawyer Ted Boutrous made an impassioned plea for openness that he said was demanded by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. “You need to not mislead the public and press that I’m doing something against the law,” Melville told Boutrous. “The difficulty in seeing that any individual in this country gets a fair trial is exacerbated when that individual is known around the world. That makes it very difficult to get a fair trial.” Jackson has pleaded innocent to a 10-count indictment that charges him with committing lewd acts on a boy under the age of 14 as well as child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment. A trial has been set for September 13. The 45-year-old entertainer, who lives at Neverland Valley Ranch in the hills above Santa Maria in Central California, skipped the hearing with Melville’s blessing. Boutrous, as the lawyer representing a large group of news organisations, has fought a mostly losing battle for access in the Jackson case and was clearly exasperated by Melville’s decision to postpone a ruling on the grand jury transcripts until July. “We believe this is a critical time in this case regarding the public’s right of access,” Boutrous said. “Since the last hearing the blanket of secrecy has become even more complete.” Boutrous said that so much of the case was being conducted behind closed doors that the lawyers were left speaking in “secret speech code” in open court to keep reporters in the dark. He added: “The time has come in this case to let the sun shine in.” Court observers were left puzzled by much of the discussions between Melville and the attorneys, which made oblique reference to secret documents, witnesses and exhibits or other conversations that had taken place in private. Melville during Friday’s hearing ordered a series of search warrants and several other documents sealed. He and attorneys for both sides also retreated to his chambers for about an hour to discuss matters that he said must remain off the record. :nav Source: [url=http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=entertainmentNews&storyID=536150§ion=news]http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticl…50§ion=news[/url]

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