Jackson trial likely this year

— The judge in Michael Jackson's child-molestation case said Friday he wanted the trial to take place this year, and lawyers predicted they would be ready in December.

As expected, Jackson was not in court for the proceedings, and the atmosphere was much more subdued than his arraignment last month, when thousands of fans came to the courthouse and the 45-year-old pop star danced on top of his SUV.

This time, the seats reserved for his family in the courtroom were not filled.

A contingent of Jackson fans sat in two rows but were told to button their jackets and hide T-shirts bearing slogans supporting the entertainer. Outside, a woman held a sign supporting the alleged victim.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville agreed to delay setting a date for a preliminary hearing until April 2. A preliminary hearing functions as a mini-trial at which the prosecution lays out its evidence and the judge decides if there is enough evidence to take the case to trial.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos said he had just received 400 pages of evidence from Dist. Atty. Thomas Sneddon and needed time to review it.

Another Jackson attorney, Benjamin Brafman, also hinted there would be a need for hearings on "other serious issues" before the preliminary hearing. He did not elaborate.

Jackson is charged with committing lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 and giving the child an "intoxicating agent" -- reportedly wine.

The defense attorneys again implored the judge to give them an exception to a gag order to allow them to respond to inaccurate news reports.

The judge made no ruling but gave the attorneys time to file further suggestions on the matter.


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