May 25, 2004 09:00 AM

Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, has hired a lawyer to be his “extra pair of eyes” during the child molestation case against his son, according to a statement issued on the elder Jackson’s behalf.

Debra Opri, a frequent TV legal analyst and former lawyer for James Brown, said her role will be on the sidelines rather than the frontlines of Michael’s case.

“I’m not participating in the case at this point,” Opri tells the Associated Press. “At this point I’m representing family interests. Joseph loves his son and wants to be kept updated on everything.”

Her role, she says, will be “to tell him what’s going on.”

Michael Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to child molestation, administering an intoxicating agent, and a conspiracy count involving allegations of child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.

His lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr., was aware of the arrangement with Opri but tells AP: “I’ve never met or spoken to her in my life.”

Longtime Jackson family lawyer Brian Oxman said he was aware of Opri’s new role but refused to comment other than to say it would not interfere with Mesereau’s representation of Jackson.

Opri, who heads a Beverly Hills law firm, plans to be in court Friday for a hearing in the case. She also suggested that she could be a helpful presence for the defense team.

Michael Jackson is next due in court on Friday.

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