Michael Jackson was scolded by a judge today for arriving 21 minutes late to enter a not guilty plea on child molestation charges, as the pop star made a grand arrival — and even more dramatic exit — through crowds of supporters and media.
Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville reportedly was annoyed by the singer's late entrance. Addressing Jackson, Melville said the singer had begun the court appearance on "the wrong foot," according to broadcast reports. When Jackson's lead defense lawyer, Mark Geragos, stood up to respond, Melville stopped him and downplayed the admonition as only a "polite warning."
Jackson, 45, is charged with seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent, believed to be wine.
Court officials read all nine charges to Jackson, who responded with "not guilty." Jackson turned himself over to Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department on Nov. 20 and has been free on $3-million bail. Jackson's next court date was set for Feb. 13.
Also, the judge moved to keep the crush of media and distraction outside the courtroom by approving a gag order on the proceedings.
The judge also denied a request by news organizations, including The Times, to make public sealed warrants related to Jackson's arrest.
Outside the courtroom, the day started with a choreographed flair usually reserved for a red carpet entrance. Members of Jackson's family emptied out of stretch limousines and walked through throngs of cheering fans into the Santa Maria courthouse. Jackson family patriarch Joe Jackson arrived first, followed by brothers Jermaine and Tito, sister Janet, and mother Katherine.
Michael Jackson made a solo arrival. Three SUVs carrying the singer's entourage left Neverland ranch about 8:15 a.m. and were met at the courthouse by crowds that began a chant of "innocent, innocent" after the singer held up two fingers in a peace sign from one of the cars.
Members of the Nation of Islam, standing stone-face in their signature suits, helped hold back the fans.
Jackson stepped out and ducked under an umbrella to avoid the glare of the sun. Though late, Jackson stopped to shake hands with fans, as a corona of television cameras, handlers and Nation of Islam members formed around him. Jackson directed one cameraman to get a shot of fans reaching for the pop star, their fingers jammed through the links of a metal fence.
After Jackson left the courthouse at about 10:50 a.m. — dancing on the roof of a car to the delight of screaming onlookers — his attorneys apologized for the singer's tardiness.
"In fairness to Mr. Jackson, it takes 20 minutes to make it a 100 yards when you are in the company of Mr. Jackson," said Benjamin Brafman, who joined the defense team on Thursday. Brafman successfully defended rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs on gun charges and bribery charges in 2001.
This morning, the scene outside the courthouse was chaos. People were clustered deep along the sidewalks, many of them fans, as if they were expecting movie stars to appear during the Oscars.
Several hundred fans were there to prop up the self-described King of Pop. And fans reached out to try to touch him or shake his hand as he walked by slowly in a dark suit, wearing sunglasses while holding an umbrella.
Earlier, Jackson impersonators were entertaining the crowd, along with Howard McCrary, one of Jackson's backup singers, who sang gospel tunes and swayed side to side with a man dressed like Charlie Chaplin, one of Jackson's favorite actors.
Other fans held a red banner measuring a half-block long saying, "Michael Jackson is innocent."
Several supporters said that they believed Jackson would not hurt anyone. One traveler from Japan said she came to let Jackson know that she still believes in his innocence. "I love Michael," said Tomoko Satomuri, 41, who teaches English. "I just had to be here. I couldn't just sit at home."
Times staff writers Daryl Strickland in Los Angeles and Erin Ailworth and Steve Chawkins in Santa Maria contributed to this story.