LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A judge on Monday ruled that Michael Jackson's physician can keep his California medical license, and he set August 23 as the start date for a preliminary hearing into a manslaughter charge against Dr. Conrad Murray.
Murray, who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the June 2009 death of the pop star, betrayed no emotion as Judge Michael Pastor ruled that he did not have the authority to suspend the doctor's license, as state officials asked.
The "Thriller" singer's mother and father watched in the courtroom as Judge Pastor explained that because a previous judge issued a ruling restricting Murray's use of sedatives, any further restraint must come via an appeal to the initial ruling and not from a new decision by Pastor.
"I simply don't have the ability to revisit the actions of one of my colleagues," Pastor said.
Jackson, a global superstar and member of the Jackson family of singers, died on June 25 last year in a drug overdose. Coroners have ruled his death a homicide caused principally by the surgical anesthetic propofol, which Murray has admitted giving Jackson as a sleep aid.
But Jackson's body also had in it the sedative lorazepam, as well as painkillers and other drugs.
The California Medical Board had requested Murray's license be suspended, barring him from practicing in the state. Deputy Attorney General Trina Saunders argued that the alleged crime was serious and the public should be protected from him.
Defense attorneys countered that suspending Murray's license requires evidence of a crime to be submitted to the court and, so far, no evidence has been.
The defense has also said Murray is suffering financially and needs his licenses to make money. Murray mainly practices in Houston and Las Vegas, but his attorneys have said if one state suspends his license, others might soon follow.
Judge Pastor said if California officials wanted to pursue the matter further, they could appeal his ruling.
Meanwhile, the judge set August 23 as a start date for a preliminary hearing where evidence will be presented against Murray to determine if enough exists for him to stand trial.
Judge Pastor, defense attorneys and prosecutors all seemed to agree that an August start might be delayed as the case progresses and further hearings are held.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte