Media, Attorneys Fight Over Access In Michael Jackson Case

District attorney wants gag order; news outlets want access to documents.

As the countdown to Michael Jackson's Friday arraignment continues, the prosecution, the defense and the media have been filing a flurry of eleventh-hour motions regarding the flow of information in the case.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon requested a gag order on January 6, barring the defendant, attorneys for both parties, investigators, assistants and potential witnesses from making public comments about the case. Jackson attorney Mark Geragos objected, filing a formal opposition on Monday that argues there was no evidence that unrestricted speech would present a clear and present danger. That same day, a group of media outlets filed opposition papers as well.

"The breadth of the [gag] order sought by the prosecution is matched only by its patent unconstitutionality," the media's opposition claimed.

Sneddon filed a reply to the opposition papers on Wednesday, arguing a gag order would not infringe upon free speech, since the media would be free to attend the trial and gather information. Sneddon also argued that a "reasonable likelihood of prejudice" is as valid a reason as a "clear and present danger" to justify a gag order, and in this case, his interest was securing an unbiased jury.

The best evidence for the need of a gag order, he argued, has been Geragos' comments on CNN's "Larry King Live" and CBS' "60 Minutes." Though he admitted to also granting interviews to news outlets, Sneddon said, "In none of those interviews was the evidence available to the prosecution discussed" and errors were "forthrightly acknowledged" and public apologies provided.

"Defense counsel, on the other hand, offers no apology for his vilification of the alleged victim and his family," Sneddon wrote. "He characterizes that as simply the 'zealous defense' of his client. ... It is the potential for such prejudice that is at issue."

The media consortium — which includes CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, FOX News, Court TV, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times — says it is fighting for Jackson's rights as well as its own, though his defense attorney might not see it that way. The group filed its motion on January 7, arguing that the search warrant, the alleged victim's affidavit and the list of items seized during the search of Neverland are a matter of public interest.

Geragos filed an opposition on Monday, arguing that he hadn't seen the documents in question, and the court ordered that they be provided to the defense first; whether the media gets to see the documents under seal will be decided at Friday's arraignment. The media filed a reply on Tuesday, arguing that it was in Jackson's best interest that they be able to scrutinize the documents, especially considering the singer's contention on "60 Minutes" that areas had been searched without a warrant.

"Defendant Jackson's contention that all of the warrant records should remain sealed for the time being cannot be reconciled with [his] own recent and public allegations of serious wrongdoing by Santa Barbara authorities in executing the search warrant in question, surely a matter of immediate public concern and interest," the media's reply read. "Jackson alleges that Santa Barbara authorities 'went into areas they weren't supposed to go into — like my office. They didn't have search warrants for those places. And they totally took advantage. And the room is a total, total wreck.' "

Jackson's own comments, the consortium's reply read, demonstrate the need for the media and public to "participate and serve as a check upon the judicial process."

Decisions on the unsealing of court documents and the gag order are expected Friday at Jackson's arraignment.

Catch MTV News' complete coverage of Jackson's arraignment on Friday. MTVNews.com will provide updates throughout the day, while over on MTV, correspondents Sway Calloway and John Norris will provide regular updates beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET. Meanwhile, MTV2 will air the special "Judging Jackson: The Arraignment" at 6:30 p.m. ET.

For more on the Michael Jackson case, see "Michael Jackson Accused."