Sneddon, Melville sagas are sidelights Except for me and the mixologist, the bar at the Santa Maria Inn was empty early Monday afternoon. Happy hour seemed a long way off. In the lobby, the registration clerk said that some of the biggest names in the press contingent assigned to cover the Michael Jackson case had not yet arrived to check in. But they were expected, she said. Members of the press would indeed soon begin filtering into the historic downtown hotel on Broadway that has become the unofficial media headquarters for reporters and others assigned to cover the case. Other hotels and motels also would soon increase business because of today’s pre-trial hearing in the celebrity child-molestation case. Since the proceedings are expected to continue at least another day, members of the press will be hanging around. The bar at the Inn should be packed tonight with people who normally do not find themselves in Santa Maria. And if Jackson’s jury trial comes off as planned, bar business will soar all over town – not just because of the press, either. Lawyers drink, too. So do some Jackson fans and tourists who might decide to head our way just to see what they can see. After all, people in America’s smallest burgs saw televised film footage of Jackson dancing on the roof of his SUV. Stranger antics could occur during the trial. And I’m just talking about what goes on inside the courtroom. The proceedings are already too weird – even without Jackson’s presence at the pre-trial hearings from which he’s officially excused. Last Friday, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville released an edited court document in which page after page appears as blacked-out blurs. The midnight sky over Jackson’s Neverland ranch shows more light. Yet, as disheartening as Melville’s continuing court censorship has become for people trying to learn about the case, the controversy is good news for people who live and work in Santa Maria. Every aspect of the Jackson case tests the mettle of our public officials. More than any audience world-wide, the people who pay their salaries deserve to see how they perform. Of course, increased lodging and increased customers at area bars and restaurants are valuable to our community. But the lasting benefits that come with news and commentary about how well – or how poorly – our public officials handle their sworn duties are priceless. Members of the press who visit our town to work this story will continue to check into the people’s business and report the results. They – and we at this newspaper – will report, analyze and comment on the people we put in public office and the public servants they hire to protect our rights. Numerous stories about our guardians of the public trust have already appeared in newspapers, magazines and on television shows across the nation and the world. A buddy back East who’s a longtime judge and former prosecutor e-mailed me Monday after reading about District Attorney Tom Sneddon and the flap over remarks Sneddon allegedly made about the Jackson case during a prosecutors’ conference last week in Canada. My judicious friend wanted to know who has the responsibility to investigate whether Sneddon violated the gag order that presiding judge Melville issued in the case. Good question, your honor. I have a few questions of my own. Will the appropriate authorities even bother to investigate the accusations? Will Melville lecture Sneddon the way he lectured Jackson’s lead attorney a few weeks ago over remarks Jackson once made about the case – remarks that Melville characterized as a violation of the gag order? Will Sneddon demand a retraction or threaten to sue the newspaper? Sneddon denies talking about the Jackson case, by the way. The reporter stands by his story. Television and print journalists should be falling over each other trying to find out exactly what Sneddon said. Does a video of Sneddon’s comments exist? Will Sneddon’s colleagues share their recollections about the panel discussion? Will Sneddon recuse himself because of the mere appearance of impropriety? Sober questions demand sober answers. Until the people know the truth, happy hour is canceled. :nav SOURCE: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2004/07/27/sections/corbett/corbett.txt

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