Sunday, December 7, 2003
Los Angeles All future legal proceedings in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, including any future trial, will take place in the city of Santa Maria, Calif., in the northern part of Santa Barbara County, court and law enforcement officials said Friday.
Some had speculated that the trial might take place in Santa Barbara to the south, where authorities filed search and arrest warrants under seal.
"An immediate issue now will be whether jurors will be selected only from the north county, or whether the defense can succeed in expanding it to a countywide jury pool," said Michael McMahon, a former Santa Barbara County deputy public defender who now works in Ventura County, south of Santa Barbara. "That might balance things more."
The largely rural, agricultural north tends to be more conservative, lawyers familiar with the area said. The south, which includes such affluent communities as Montecito and Hope Ranch, is viewed as more liberal.
The choice of Santa Maria reflects the conventional method of choosing court venues in Santa Barbara County. If a crime occurs in the north county, Santa Maria's courthouse routinely sees most of the paperwork and the trials. There is also a smaller courthouse in Lompoc. If a crime occurs in the south, Santa Barbara is host for the proceedings.
Jackson's Neverland ranch, where the alleged sexual abuse of a then-12-year-old boy is claimed to have taken place, sits in the northern part of the county.
The 45-year-old pop star was arrested Nov. 20 in Santa Barbara and released within an hour on $3 million bail. Prosecutors have not filed charges against Jackson, but have said they plan to do so in mid-December.
The decision to move the case to the north was confirmed by Gary Blair, chief executive officer for the Santa Barbara County Superior Court system, and by representatives of the sheriff's department and district attorney's office.
A court official said the decision was made by Thomas Sneddon, who has served as the county's top prosecutor for 20 years.