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TV Gets a Fee Break in Covering Jackson Hearing

Times Staff Writers

Expressing concern over constitutional freedoms and a possible lawsuit, Santa Barbara County supervisors Tuesday unanimously rejected charging any fees to television trucks at a hearing set for Friday in the Michael Jackson molestation case.

The board earlier had set a $250 rental fee for parking spaces outside Santa Maria’s small courthouse and was being asked by county officials to increase that to $400 for Friday’s hearing.

But, in contrast to the charging of large rental fees in other high-profile cases, the board reversed its policy after hearing arguments from local and national television organizations.

Local TV outlets in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara argued that they did not have the budgets for large rental fees for covering what Supervisor Naomi Schwartz called the “most extraordinary situation” in the county’s history.

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Among those arguing against the fees was Hans Laetz, a member of the Los Angeles Radio and Television News Assn.

“It’s very discriminatory, and aimed directly at us,” he said. “We have to use satellite trucks. We’re journalists. You are telling us we can’t do our jobs.”

Attorney Theodore Boutrous, Jr., representing major national television networks, said the rental fees discriminated against television because print media representatives were being allowed free parking at a nearby mall and did not require large trucks.

Supervisor Gail Marshall proposed the one-day ban on fees and was joined by Supervisor Joni Gray, who noted: “We don’t want to end up with a million dollars in legal fees.”

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While the board voted against fees for covering Friday’s hearing, it said some reasonable fee structure needed to be worked out for future events in the Jackson case.

Gray also stunned television representatives at Tuesday’s meeting by insisting that TV satellite trucks not enter the courthouse parking lot until 6 a.m. Friday, when the lots are opened to the public.

Television stations say they need more time to set up. Normally, they set up days in advance.

Outside the hearing room Tuesday, Bob Nesbit, a county official who had presented the fee increase proposal, brushed off requests to renegotiate the set-up schedule.

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“Why should I be sympathetic?” he asked.

He said the television broadcasters could have had all the parking time they wanted if they had agreed to pay the increased fees.

Jackson, 45, is charged with seven felony counts of child molestation and two felony charges of providing an intoxicant to a minor in order to seduce him. The pop music star is not expected to attend Friday’s hearing.

The supervisors ordered county officials to meet with media representatives to discuss some kind of fee schedule for the future.

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