LOS ANGELES Nov. 20 — The prosecutor in the Michael Jackson case
praised a law that can halt civil lawsuits during related criminal
cases, saying it would prevent a scenario where the singer's accuser
accepted a settlement and then refused to testify in the criminal
The state law was passed because another child backed out of a 1993
molestation case against Jackson after the singer reportedly paid him
a multimillion settlement, Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon
"It is an irony. The history of the law is that the L.A. district
attorney's office carried the legislation as a direct result of the
civil settlement in the first investigation," Sneddon told The
Associated Press in an interview.
Sneddon had baffled legal experts Wednesday when he seemed to imply at
a nationally televised news conference that the new law lets
prosecutors force minors to testify.
"The law in California at that time provided that a child victim could
not be forced to testify in a child molest proceeding without their
permission and consent and cooperation," Sneddon had said. "As a
result of the (first) Michael Jackson case, the Legislature changed
that law, and that is no longer the law in California."
But Sneddon later told the AP he was referring to a change that lets
prosecutors intervene in a civil action, removing the monetary
incentive for someone to wait for the outcome of a civil case before
deciding whether to testify in a criminal trial.
"The practical effect is that they cooperate" with prosecutors in the
criminal case, he said.
Sneddon said he was aware that children cannot be forced to testify,
and that reporters and other attorneys had misinterpreted his remarks
at the news conference.
Loyola University Law Professor Laurie Levenson said she was fielding
calls all day from members of the legal community and other
professionals who deal with molestation victims who were baffled by
the district attorney's comments.
"I think he misspoke and he was confusing," Levenson said. "In a case
of this magnitude with this much media attention, there is a
responsibility to be more precise."
"This could affect other potential victims who wonder if they come
forward will they be forced to testify. It is a bad message and it's
not a good first impression. ... Everyone interpreted him as saying he
could now force witnesses to testify. It was a disservice in that what
he said may be scaring off other victims."
Sneddon's mention of compelling testimony was especially puzzling,
legal experts said, because he also stated that the child now making
allegations against Jackson is willing to testify and has no plans to
bring a civil suit.
Associated Press Writer Tim Molloy contributed to this report.