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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Charges Against Jackson Officially Filed

Aired December 18, 2003 - 16:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And good afternoon, everyone, from the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips. We're awaiting the formal processing of charges against Michael Jackson. The papers brought by District Attorney Tom Sneddon are expected to be stamped with the official court seal any minute now.
We have a team of correspondents and analysts working this story today. Miguel Marquez is outside the courthouse in Santa Maria. Attorney Christopher Darden joins us from Los Angeles. On the phone with us from New York, CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Good afternoon, everybody. Miguel, let's start with you and sort of set the scene for us. Tell us where we stand right now.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We stand about two minutes away from hearing from Thomas Sneddon, I believe. We were just told by the public information officer for the sheriff's department here at the podium that Mr. Sneddon would be approaching the podium in the next couple of minutes to apparently brief us as to what exactly is in these charges.

He has said, all along, that there would be several charges of molestation against Mr. Jackson, but has declined to say anything more about that, except to say that everything would be -- everything would be clearer once those charges were made.

And I am corrected here for a second, since this is actually breaking news, the papers, the actual papers that will be filed against Mr. Jackson will be delivered here in just about two minutes so we will expect those. They will be stamped, they will be processed, redacted for any personal information and then those papers will be photocopied and put up on to the Internet and brought out here for reporters.

At that point, we believe Mr. Sneddon will approach the mic, talk to us and shortly after that, Mr. Geragos, Mark Geragos, Mr. Jackson's attorney is expected to hold a press conference in Los Angeles. You can expect to see lots of dueling press conferences ahead -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Miguel, I'm told about 30 seconds away. I know you're right there at the scene. We're going to have you kind of keep an eye on things. Let us know once you see some action there. And we'll come right back to you. While you're monitoring that, let's go to Christopher Darden, who is sort of taking us through this whole process and joins us from the L.A. Bureau.

Christopher, why don't you, sort of, as we're waiting for these -- I guess for the clerical supervisor to actually take these documents in to get stamped, take us through this process. It has to be stamped, redacted, scanned and then it's going to be put on this Web site. Tell us why all the formalities.

CHRISTOPHER DARDEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: This is traditionally how charges are filed here in California. The D.A. makes a filing decision, manufactures a complaint. The complaint is walked to the clerk's office. Not only as a stamp, but the complaint is given a case number and placed into the court's official record. So we can expect, in a little while, to see that complaint.

I'll be honest with you. I've never had a situation like this where the complaint was walked into the clerk's office and then within 10 or 15 minutes, that same complaint was being distributed to lawyers. Generally, it takes all afternoon. And I've spent many an afternoon waiting for a complaint just like this to be generated.

PHILLIPS: Interesting. So do you think, because of the scope of this case, the media attention, the fact that it's pop star Michael Jackson, that things are being done differently now, or is this just a sign of the times?

DARDEN: I think things are being done more than a little bit differently. I mean, how often do you get notice, several days' notice that charges are going to be filed? Then you're told the exact time in which they're going to be filed so that the media can be present for a press conference. This is all out of the ordinary. Probably would have been better to have filed this case last night or this morning and gotten it stamped and had it ready as opposed to causing all this media attention.

PHILLIPS: Christopher, I don't know if you can see a monitor, but here is the picture. This is the clerical supervisor for the Santa Barbara county's D.A.'s office obviously with a sheriff's escort with the papers. Cameras rolling here, heading into the office for it to be stamped. I'm not quite sure if we have audio. Do we have audio that we can listen in? OK, we do not. Christopher, can you see this live picture?

DARDEN: Yes, I can see this live picture. You know, that complaint doesn't look particularly thick or large. So I can't help but wonder how many counts the D.A. is filing against Michael Jackson.

PHILLIPS: Interesting. Go ahead.

DARDEN: Isn't this incredible, though? I mean, we have cameras here following the clerk into the clerk's office with this criminal complaint. I just think that that is absolutely amazing. One of the biggest mistakes the D.A. can make is to treat Michael Jackson in any way different than he would from any other criminal defendant. That could come back to bite him.

PHILLIPS: It's interesting. Let's bring in -- Christopher, continue to monitor this for us. Let's bring in our Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, I'm assuming you may agree with Christopher in that this is pretty amazing how the times have changed. We've got cameras rolling from the clerical supervisor bringing the papers in, being stamped. We're seeing everything go down minute by minute.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It really does seem like this is something that could have been done behind the scenes a little bit better. But in the context of a case that will take many months to resolve itself, I think this probably won't matter much. But, you know, this is not being treated as an ordinary case, and this sort of elaborate choreography is an example of it.

PHILLIPS: Christopher Darden said the same thing, Jeffrey. He feels this is a big mistake that Michael Jackson and that this case is being treated so differently. Why do you think it is a bit of a mistake?

TOOBIN: Well, because it is something that the defense can use to create the impression, correctly or not, that Michael Jackson is being singled out. That his behavior is being scrutinized in a more harsh way because he's a celebrity.

To the extent it could be treated in the normal course of business, that would be a good thing. In some respects, though, I think it is not a bad thing to treat things somewhat exceptionally. The district attorney has received some criticism for hiring a Hollywood press agent, as it's been described, to manage media inquiries.

I think when a small district attorney's office is getting literally hundreds of requests from impatient reporters like us it's better to have an organized process for dealing with them, rather than just let the office descend into chaos. So that kind of thing I don't think is inappropriate at all.

PHILLIPS: Jeffrey, we're not impatient. We just want the answers right now.

TOOBIN: That's right. There you go and, of course, we deserve it.

PHILLIPS: Christopher, yes, go ahead, Christopher.

DARDEN: You know what, Jeffrey, it makes you wonder whether or not the Hollywood P.R. firm told D.A. Sneddon to film the actual filing of the criminal complaint.

TOOBIN: Well, it's true. You're right, Chris. I mean, it's the kind of thing where some people who are thinking too hard about imagery are trying to give the press a visual, as we're getting now. But it really isn't worth it to get a visual. It's better to just get the paper filed, have the press conference, rather than to create an event out of a perfectly ordinary situation which is the filing of a court document.

PHILLIPS: Chris also pointed out, Jeffrey, the fact that it didn't look very thick. Did you notice that? Does that mean that there might not be hundreds and hundreds of charges here? Are we speculating too much? TOOBIN: I think there are two things to really keep an eye on as we see what the complaint is. One is how many acts of sexual misconduct are alleged and how many victims are alleged. Because we know that the one alleged victim is the person who is in the Martin Bashir documentary, he is the person who came forward.

The district attorney then asked for other people to come forward. Let's see if anyone did. Second point is, let's look at the dates of the accusations against Michael Jackson. When is this alleged misconduct to have taken place? Because we know from the document that came out on Thesmokinggun.com last week that in February, this young boy told the authorities in Los Angeles nothing happened. Michael Jackson did not engage in inappropriate behavior.

So is the conduct before or after February? If it's before, the prosecution may have a lot of trouble. If it's after, prosecution might not have so much trouble.

PHILLIPS: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, Christopher Darden, we're going to ask you both to stand by. If you're just tuning in, the formal processing has taken place. The charges have been filed against pop singer Michael Jackson.

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