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High drama expected in Jackson hearing

| Monday, Aug. 16, 2004

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A day before he was scheduled to appear in court for his child molestation case, Michael Jackson made a surprise visit to a South Los Angeles church on Sunday and met with about 35 Sunday school students.

One girl at the First AME Church asked if the children could visit Jackson's Neverland ranch, to which the pop star replied: "You're welcome to come anytime."

Jackson, who wore a dark blue velvet jacket with a gold armband on one sleeve, was not made available for questions. He appeared with his attorney, Tom Mesereau Jr., brother Randy and comedian Steve Harvey. Mesereau declined to comment on the case.

Jackson's family will be standing by him for a courtroom confrontation with the man who wants to put him in prison -- a district attorney who investigated a child-molestation case against Jackson that was abandoned a decade ago when the accuser took an undisclosed settlement.

Although the legal agenda for the pretrial hearing is significant, emotional overtones may take center stage. The subject of this session is District Attorney Tom Sneddon, the man who also tried to bring charges against Jackson in 1993 in a confrontation so bitter that Jackson wrote an angry song that only slightly disguised Sneddon's name.

Today, Mesereau gets to question Sneddon about his actions in the weeks before the current charges against Jackson were filed. The defense is seeking to show that Sneddon invaded the sanctity of the attorney-client privilege between Jackson and his former attorney.

Jackson has not been required to attend pretrial hearings, but he decided he wanted to be present for this confrontation. In the audience will be his parents, Joseph and Katherine, and siblings including Janet, LaToya, Jermaine and Jackie.

"It's a faceoff between Jackson and Sneddon," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola University law professor and former federal prosecutor. "And emotionally, it's a big moment in the case. This is high drama."

The hearing is also important legally, she said, because prosecutors stand to lose their key evidence if it is found that they obtained it illegally.

"This is the basis of the conspiracy count," she said.

In addition, she said, a finding that the prosecution intentionally interfered with the attorney-client relationship could prompt a motion to dismiss the charge entirely.

Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail.

Sneddon was subpoenaed by Jackson's attorneys to testify about surveillance he personally conducted at the office of a private investigator who was working for Jackson's former attorney, Mark Geragos.

The investigator, Bradley Miller, was not in his Beverly Hills office when Sneddon went there and photographed the building and its roster of occupants.

Santa Barbara County sheriff's officials already have testified that they used a sledgehammer to break into Miller's office and seize videotapes and files relating to the Jackson case. They maintain that they did not know Miller was employed by Geragos.

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