Pop superstar Michael Jackson is seeking a six-year delay in the child molestation lawsuit brought against him by a 13-year-old boy, but the boy's attorney, stepping up his efforts to expedite the civil case, asked the court Monday to order the singer to return from his international tour to give a deposition.
Citing the continuing criminal investigation touched off this summer by the boy's allegations that Jackson repeatedly sexually molested him, Bertram Fields, an attorney Jackson has hired in response to the lawsuit, asked for the delay late last week.
Fields' petition seeks to have the court put a hold on the trial and all so-called discovery activities--attorney interviews of principals and potential witnesses--until the statute of limitations for the alleged crimes has expired.
The request is part of the Jackson camp's first official response to the lawsuit, filed Sept. 14. In the court document, Jackson, as he has in the past, denied all allegations of sexual abuse and repeated his accusation that the allegations stemmed from a failed extortion attempt by the boy's father.
But attorney Larry R. Feldman, representing the teen-ager, is seeking to have the trial begin before the middle of March, saying his client "is entitled to lead the remainder of his childhood without a cloud over his head that he is an extortionist and liar."
Civil court dockets in the Los Angeles area are so crowded that it often takes up to five years for a case to get to trial. But Feldman said the teen-ager is entitled to priority because he is under 14 and because of the nature of the case.
"This child needs closure," Feldman said, adding that Jackson's refusal to interrupt his tour to allow Feldman to interview him, and the singer's efforts to have the case put on hold for six years, amount to the pop star "taking the 5th Amendment."
"He's not testifying, and he doesn't want anyone else to either. . . . That's an amazing thing for a superstar who claims he's innocent," Feldman said.
But Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator who is Jackson's director of security and has been his primary spokesman on the sexual abuse allegations, said the singer is legally entitled to have the criminal aspects of the case resolved before the civil case proceeds.
"The criminal charges have to be wrapped up first," Pellicano said, after Fields' office referred press inquiries to the investigator.
The boy's request to have the case expedited is scheduled to be heard Nov. 16 in Santa Monica Superior Court; a hearing on Jackson's petition for the delay is scheduled Nov. 19.
The boy's allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in late August, just after Jackson had left the country for a six-month tour, and touched off an international frenzy. Police would confirm only that there was an investigation under way in response to allegations the boy made to a social worker specializing in child abuse.
No criminal charges have been filed against Jackson. Police said investigations are continuing, both into the accusations against the superstar and into Jackson's allegation that the boy's father, a Beverly Hills dentist, had tried to extort $20 million from him in exchange for the boy's silence.
Pellicano released new court documents he said supported the extortion claim--a copy of the lawsuit's cover page listing $20 million as the amount of general damages sought. The boy's attorney listed no amount when he filed the suit.
The suit alleges that the boy was molested by Jackson during vacations at his ranch near Santa Barbara and on other occasions.