SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Michael Jackson was busy promoting AIDS awareness in the nation's Capitol as lawyers in his child molestation case prepared for a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence to try the pop star.
But the hearing was overshadowed by testimony presented to a secret grand jury by Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon. If grand jurors find there is enough evidence to try Jackson, the results of the preliminary hearing would be moot.
The difference between the two proceedings is that one is secret and one is public. Jackson's attorneys, Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman, are excluded from grand jury proceedings.
The issue of secrecy is at the heart of most items on the court agenda Friday with defense lawyers seeking a partial exemption from a court imposed gag order and lawyers for the media seeking access to sealed search warrants and other documents.
Sneddon also is asking permission to watch a videotaped interview with unnamed witnesses prepared by Geragos' private investigator. He said the prosecution is entitled to know what is on the tape.
Media lawyers planned to ask for unsealing of search warrants and other papers in the case, including a series of documents in which the prosecution accuses an unnamed person of being in contempt of court for violating the gag order.
A panel of the state's 2nd District Court of Appeals issued a stay late Thursday on three segments of a court order that had barred journalists from talking to and photographing prospective or final grand jurors. The appeals court asked for more briefings on the issue.
Jackson was not required to attend Friday's hearing. Instead, he chose to visit Washington, D.C., where he met with members of Congress and was lauded for his work fighting AIDS.
Jackson was charged last year with seven counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under age 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent to the child. Jackson has pleaded innocent and Geragos has called the charges a "big lie."