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Delay In Michael Jackson Trial

Michael Jackson is escorted into the Santa Barbara County courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., by his attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2005, for the second day of jury selection in his child molestation case.
AP
Jury selection in the Michael Jackson molestation case will be delayed for a week because of a death in the family of the pop star's attorney, a judge said Monday.

Monday's scheduled questioning of prospective jurors had been postponed last week because Thomas Mesereau Jr.'s sister was gravely ill. Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said jury selection will resume on Feb. 14.

In another development, Melville also agreed to a request from various news organizations, including The Associated Press, to see the questionnaires filled out last week by prospective jurors.

"It's really vital for the public to be able to have access to the questionnaires while the selection process is occurring ... to serve as a check on the process," said media lawyer Theodore Boutrous, who represents The Associated Press and other news organizations.

A pool of about 250 prospective jurors was formed after the first round of questioning by the judge to determine which people would be able to serve on the expected six-month trial. The next round of questioning will involve defense attorneys and prosecutors.

Prosecutors had agreed to the release of the completed questionnaires, but defense attorneys argued that jurors might be less candid if they knew their answers would be made public.

"The release of the completed jury questionnaires does not serve any purpose other than to add to the sensationalist coverage of this case," Jackson's attorneys said in a motion last week.

The judge said he would edit the questionnaires to remove sensitive information at the request of prospective jurors.

CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reported that until now, observers were amazed at how fast this trial had been moving through the justice system.

"The breakneck speed that this case has moved from the very beginning is really unusual, so, the fact that there is a delay here really shouldn't cause a rumble as the case moves forward," Gonzales said. .

Last week, Melville ended the first round of jury screening a day earlier than planned, saying the pool of 250 prospects should be large enough to find 12 jurors and eight alternates.

A copy of the questionnaire given to potential jurors was released to the media Wednesday. Prospective jurors were asked if they have ever had cancer, whether they followed similar 1993 allegations against Jackson and whether they could fairly judge people of other races.

Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a 13-year-old former cancer patient. He is also charged with giving the boy alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family at Jackson's Neverland ranch. The pop star has said he expects to be acquitted.

The cost of the trial, expected to last five months, has local officials worried about how they'll pay for it.

Estimates range wildly, from a low of about $2.5 million to a high of about $4 million of taxpayer money.

One estimate puts the cost of security and other needs around the courthouse on a single day at about $40,000, Jason Stilwell, a special projects manager in the county administrator's office, told the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Some of those costs are already being covered by a consortium of news organizations that is paying $7,500 a day for access to the courts, security, trash service, toilets and other items.

But officials argue that with more than 1,000 members of the media credentialed to cover the trial, the county is recovering only a fraction of its actual costs.

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