LOS ANGELES — Michael Jackson's judge blacked out the words "obscenity," "pornographic" and "sexual conduct" from the text of landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions in releasing a legal motion filed by the pop star's lawyers.
The motion seeks to bar references to those words during Jackson's molestation trial in describing materials seized from the entertainer's Neverland ranch. The judge's action appeared designed to keep secret what the motion was all about, but the document filed by Jackson lawyer Brian Oxman cites some of the Supreme Court's most famous landmark decisions on obscenity.
"I thought we had seen it all in this case," commented Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson. "But this is absurd. We have now begun censoring Supreme Court decisions. It is absolutely unprecedented."
Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville has imposed extensive secrecy provisions in Jackson's child-molestation case. Many of the precautions have proved useless because of equally extensive information leaks. Melville sealed the entire grand jury transcript in the case, only to have it leaked to an Internet Web site and a TV network last week.
"These are the most extreme acts of secrecy ever used and they're not effective," said Levenson.
In the redacted motion released on Jan. 21, it was easy to decipher the contents by reading the landmark decisions cited.
For instance, in the 1973 case of Miller v. California, the high court stated that "no majority of the court has at any given time been able to agree on a standard to determine what constitutes obscene, pornographic material."
The judge blacked out the words "obscene" and "pornographic."
The decision continued: "We now confine the permissible scope of such regulation of works which depict or describe sexual conduct." The judge excised the word "sexual." Another line said that a state offense is limited to works "which taken as a whole appeal to the prurient interest in sex which portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way." The judge blacked out the words "prurient interest in sex" and "sexual conduct."
Similar deletions were used in reference to the landmark cases of Roth v. United States from 1957 and Ginzburg v. United States from 1966.
The point of the motion was that magazines and books seized by authorities in their searches of Jackson's Neverland ranch should not be described to the jury as obscene or pornographic because doing so would be a legal judgment.
"The suggestion (that) these materials, which can be purchased on (sic) any corner drug store[,] are illegal is prejudicial to the jury because the inference is false," the motion said.
Jackson, 46, is set to go on trial Jan. 31 on charges of molesting a boy and plying him with alcohol.
At a pretrial hearing on Jan. 21 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria, Melville ruled that prosecutors may introduce trial testimony about child-molestation misperceptions and myths.
Prosecutors want an expert witness to testify about why victims sometimes wait to report molestation, give incomplete accounts, don't tell close relatives or retain affection for their abusers.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. said such testimony should not be allowed if the defense can prove the alleged victim and his family "aren't victims at all, they're flat-out liars."
"We're quite confident of what they're going to look like after they're subjected finally to cross-examination," Mesereau said.
Melville said jury selection would begin Jan. 31.