LOS ANGELES — Have you heard the one about Jay Leno, the gag order in the Michael Jackson case and the First Amendment?
For Leno, who has been subpoenaed for Jackson’s child-molestation trial, it’s no joke.
Attorneys for the star of NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” have asked Judge Rodney S. Melville to lift or clarify the gag order, saying it “could be interpreted to limit Mr. Leno’s ability to publicly speak about the trial.”
Leno’s motion, released by Santa Barbara County Superior Court yesterday, was filed Feb. 18, a day after his lawyers said his subpoena was served.
“This motion was made on the grounds that this court could not possibly have intended its gag order, which was issued more than a year ago, to limit public personalities like Mr. Leno from commenting on public proceedings in this case,” attorneys Theodore Boutrous and Michael H. Dore wrote.
Applying the gag order — which bars anyone involved in the case from discussing it outside court — to Leno would be prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment and the California Constitution, the motion said.
If the gag order is applied anyway, the motion said, the court should clarify that the order “only limits Mr. Leno’s ability to disclose evidence of which he may have direct, first-hand knowledge, assuming only for the sake of argument that any such evidence exists.”
The motion requests that Melville expedite action on the entertainer’s request.
In a statement today, NBC said it was confident the judge “did not intend the gag order to prevent Jay Leno from doing what he has always done, which is entertain the country every night with jokes and comments about current events and breaking news.”
Carrie Simons, a publicist for the show, said yesterday she could not comment on the matter because of legal concerns. She declined to say whether the subpoena had led Leno to change the contents of his nightly monologue of jokes.
If the order has given Leno pause, it’s hard to tell from his monologues. He’s regularly feasted on the trial and Jackson’s odd public image.
On the Jan. 31 show, Leno joked that Jackson’s bail was high because “the judge felt he was a flight risk.”
“You know, that he may try to take a spaceship back to his home planet.
“More problems today for Michael Jackson,” Leno said on the March 1 show. “Police now say he served alcohol to two more boys, two minors, in 2003 and he was sleeping with three other boys. So now not only is Michael creepy, he’s a little tramp, too.”
Jackson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to charges of molesting a boy, conspiracy and administering an intoxicating agent, alcohol, to his alleged victim.
Jackson’s defense contends the boy’s family targeted celebrities for fraud, in particular by using the fact that the child was a cancer patient.
Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. said during his opening statement to the jury that the family sought money from Leno, who was so suspicious he called Santa Barbara police to report that “something was wrong. They were looking for a mark.”