May 28, 2004 03:00 PM

Unless there is a good reason for delay, Sept. 13 is the start date for the Michael Jackson trial, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville announced at a hearing Friday.

Jackson, 45, who was charged last month on charges of lewd acts on a young boy as well as child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment, did not attend the session.

A settlement hearing is set for Sept. 7, when defense and prosecution will sit down to discuss any possible chance for a plea deal, PEOPLE reports.

Judge Melville also said he would rule later on a request by Jackson’s lawyers to reduce the musician’s $3 million bail. Jackson’s attorneys argued that their client neither intends to flee nor is a danger to the community. They asked that his bail be set at the same level that any other ordinary citizen would receive.

Prosecutors oppose the bail reduction, however, having said in court papers: “As the day of trial approaches and Mr. Jackson makes a hard-headed assessment of his chances for an acquittal and ponders the unhappy but inevitable consequences of a conviction, he may well conclude that life as a wealthy absconder … is preferable to what might amount to a life term in a California prison.”

Former Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas told PEOPLE after the hearing that Jackson is considered “a high flight risk. He has the resources to do it.”

While Jackson was not at Friday’s hearing, his father, Joe, did show up, accompanied by his attorney, Debra Opri, whom he recently hired as his “extra pair of eyes” in the case. The elder Jackson refused to comment to reporters after the hearing.

The Rev. Firpo Carr, Jackson’s longtime spiritual adviser, also attended and said afterward that the pop star is “holding up well” and living at an undisclosed location in California.

Jackson is charged with lewd acts on a young boy as well as child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment. He pleaded not guilty to all of the charges during a subdued court appearance in April.

Meanwhile, Judge Melville reportedly is considering whether he will respond to a request by the media to unseal Jackson’s indictment. News organizations have chafed at the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the Jackson case, in which nearly all the evidence against him has been kept under wraps.

The judge is expected to make a decision at the next hearing June 25.

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