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Jackson financial data sought

Singer may be near bankruptcy, prosecutors say

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Prosecutors seeking access to Michael Jackson's financial records told the judge in his child molestation trial yesterday that the singer may be ''on the precipice of bankruptcy."

Assistant District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss said during a hearing on motions that prosecutors think financial problems may have motivated Jackson to participate in an alleged conspiracy to hold his accuser's family captive and try to get them to help rebut a television documentary that damaged his public image.

Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville did not immediately rule on that question, but did rule yesterday that ''Tonight Show" host Jay Leno may joke about Jackson in his monologues despite a gag order on prospective witnesses.

Responding to a request by Leno's lawyer, who cited the First Amendment, Melville clarified that the order barred Leno only from talking about the specific areas on which he may testify. Leno has been subpoenaed and could be called as a defense witness to discuss contact with the accuser's family.

Prosecutors think that Jackson may be $300 million in debt and that his financial troubles ''will all come crashing down on him in December of 2005," Auchincloss said. ''All we are looking for is a concise snapshot of the defendant's financial condition."

The defense is fighting the request.

Robert M. Sanger, Jackson's lawyer, said Auchincloss's statements, ''whether they are accurate or not, and I don't believe they are, are totally irrelevant to this."

Sanger said that what was at issue was Jackson's financial picture in February and March 2003, the time of the alleged conspiracy. He said existing case law should prevent admission of evidence about possible financial motive.

Melville had set aside yesterday to hear motions. On Thursday, the accuser described a night at the Neverland Valley ranch that he testified ended in Jackson's bed, where the boy said he was molested. Testimony by Jackson's accuser is scheduled to resume Monday.

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