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Judge: Raid On Jacko's Ranch Legal

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's deputies enter the front gate of Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2003, near Los Olivos, Calif. Officers conducting a criminal investigation searched the ranch. The purpose of the search was not disclosed.
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Child molestation allegations by a 12-year-old boy provided authorities with legal justification for a massive search of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch last year, a judge ruled, rejecting defense efforts to challenge the search as illegal.

In his ruling Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville short-circuited a plan by Jackson's lawyers to call multiple witnesses in an effort to show that prosecutors had insufficient information to justify the invasion of Jackson's estate last November.

Defense attorney Steve Cochran had argued that authorities "relied on a lot of pontificating" from people without sufficient expertise.

"The point was to smear my client, to make it appear there was a menace to society out there whose house needed to be searched immediately," he argued.

Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen said the only thing that could invalidate the search would be significant misrepresentations on the search warrant. Those, he said, were not present, and the judge agreed.

Melville conceded that there may have been "some relevant omissions," but he concluded: "There was probable cause to believe Michael Jackson had committed the offenses based on the statements of the minor witness."

The judge said he was basing his ruling on extensive written briefs, most of which he has sealed from public view.

Loyola University Law School Professor Laurie Levenson said the ruling probably was not a surprise to the defense since such motions are difficult to win.

"It doesn't hurt to try," she said, "and it preserves the matter for any future appeal."

Melville did agree to let defense attorneys challenge individual items seized during the search and recessed the hearings Wednesday to give lawyers time to draft a list of items they want suppressed as evidence.

When the hearing resumes on Thursday, Jackson's lawyers are expected to call more witnesses as part of their effort to get evidence obtained from the office of private investigator Bradley Miller thrown out.

On Tuesday, the defense made a surprise allegation — that Stanley J. Katz, the psychologist who first took the boy's claims about Jackson to authorities, had also been treating Miller.

Katz declined to discuss his relationship with Miller, claiming a therapist's privilege of confidentiality, which the judge eventually upheld.

Brian Oxman, the defense attorney who made the surprise allegation, wound up being fined $1,000 by the judge when he persisted in bringing up issue after the judge ruled it was out of bounds.

"Bradley Miller is a very special patient of yours, is he not, Dr. Katz?" asked Oxman.

"If he were a patient, I could not disclose that because of the privilege," Katz replied.

Katz had been called Tuesday in an effort to determine whether Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon and other authorities were aware that Miller worked for Jackson's former lawyer, Mark Geragos, when evidence was seized from Miller's office. They say they had no such knowledge.

Katz, who acknowledged only that he had worked with Miller on family court cases, said he never discussed the Jackson case with Miller and did not tell authorities that Miller was working for Geragos.

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.

On Monday, Jackson defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. took the offensive, questioning Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon for two hours over a November 2003 search of the office of a private investigator hired by Jackson's former attorney.

As CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports, Mesereau repeatedly hammered the DA with basically the same question: "It just never dawned on you that Mr. Miller was a private investigator working for Mr. Geragos?"

The exchanges were testy at times. At one point, Sneddon said he didn't know how the defense wanted him to answer a question. "Truthfully, hopefully," Mesereau replied.

When Sneddon said he couldn't give a yes or no answer, Judge Melville promptly warned him: "Mr. Sneddon, I'm going to ask you not to spar with the attorney."

Mesereau, arguing Sneddon violated Jackson's attorney-client privilege by searching the investigator's office, is seeking to have evidence gathered during that search excluded from his trial on child molestation charges.

One key piece of evidence seized at the investigator's office is a videotape of Jackson's accusers praising him. The tape is key because it may support the conspiracy charge that Jackson tried to silence his alleged victim and the victim's family, including allegedly extorting a videotaped testimonial from them.

If successful, Jackson's legal team's move could undermine the prosecution case. It is one of the issues that must be settled before Jackson's scheduled Jan. 31 trial.

The court action is a rare instance when a preliminary hearing is both important and dramatic, says CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen — important because if the judge tosses out this evidence the prosecution's case clearly will be weaker, dramatic because the defendant was in court and watching as his nemesis take the stand.

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