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Friday, March 11, 2005

A Joking Matter

Judge Says Leno Can Joke About Jackson

By TIM MOLLOY, Associated Press Writer

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno may joke about Michael Jackson (news) despite a gag order on the prospective witness in the molestation case, the judge ruled Friday.

Responding to a request by Leno's attorney, Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville clarified that the gag order would not prevent the comic from making jokes about Jackson in his monologues.

Leno, who may be called to testify about a phone call with Jackson's accuser, has been having other celebrities tell Jackson jokes on his show since being subpoenaed. Media attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. argued for the clarification on grounds Leno's First Amendment rights were violated.

The judge said the gag order barred Leno from talking about the specific areas on which he may testify, but it wouldn't prevent him or anyone else covered by the gag order from commenting generally about Jackson.

He said he would not even try to make Leno stop telling jokes that assume Jackson is guilty.

"I am not attempting to prevent anybody from making a living in the normal way that they make their living," he said.

The judge also joked: "I'd like him to tell good jokes ... but I guess I can't control that."

Jackson attorney Robert Sanger said Leno has made "very cruel jokes" about Jackson that could affect how he might testify and he urged the judge to restrict Leno further.

"We're not putting him out of his business if he can't talk about Michael Jackson for a few weeks," Sanger said.

The judge said he didn't believe such a limit would be constitutional.

The defense is expected to call Leno as part of its effort to show that the accuser's family has sought money from many celebrities including the "Tonight Show" host. According to the defense, Leno called police after talking with the accuser because he thought accuser's family was looking for a "mark."

Sanger noted that Leno's testimony would be favorable to the defense.

The judge said that during questioning, Jackson's lawyers would be free to note that Leno has made jokes about Jackson if they think it's relevant.

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