Judge issues gag order in Jackson death trial

Fri Sep 30, 2011 9:29pm EDT
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By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The judge in the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor issued a sharply worded gag order for attorneys on Friday and ordered one of them to return for a possible contempt hearing after he appeared on a TV show telling details about the case.

Judge Michael Pastor's order came at midday on Friday, the fourth day of the widely watched trial in which prosecutors are trying to prove Dr. Conrad Murray was responsible for the drug overdose that caused the pop star's death on June 25, 2009.

Prosecutors brought to the courtroom paramedics who responded to a call for help on that day, as well as other witnesses, to try to prove Murray was negligent in his care and covered up Jackson's use of the anesthetic propofol, which was the principal cause of Jackson's death.

But the day's bombshell came with Pastor's gag order, which followed an appearance by defense attorney Matthew Alford on NBC's morning talk show "Today."

"The attorneys for the parties in this case ... are ordered not to comment to anyone outside of their respective teams either directly or indirectly regarding any aspects of this case, whether orally or in writing," Pastor said in court.

Alford said on "Today" that one witness had changed his testimony several times. He also declared that Jackson was addicted to propofol. That raised the ire of Pastor, who a day earlier instructed attorneys to rein in their comments to the media. On Friday, Pastor told defense attorneys he found the "Today" show appearance "shocking," according to a court transcript.

Murray's defense lawyer, Ed Chernoff, argued that even though Alford was part of his law firm, he was not directly a member of Murray's defense team and was speaking as a private citizen. Pastor did not seem to accept that argument and ordered Alford to return to his court for a later hearing on possible contempt proceedings.

Also in Friday's testimony, paramedics who rushed to the singer's bedside told jurors they were initially optimistic he might live because they arrived within five minutes of being called. But they soon saw Jackson was unresponsive.   Continued...