August 03, 2004 08:00 AM

Michael Jackson’s lawyers claim Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who seeks to put the star behind bars on charges of child molestation and conspiracy, violated the gag order imposed on the case by Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville.

Jackson’s attorneys filed court papers pointing a finger at Sneddon and his remarks during a July 20 conference of district attorneys in Vancouver, in which he commented on the grand jury investigating Jackson.

According to Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, Sneddon told his fellow prosecutors: “We sent letters to some people saying we intended to call them as witnesses in order to keep them off TV.”

In response to those remarks, Jackson’s lead attorney, Tom Mesereau, wrote in the court papers: “Mr. Jackson respectfully requests the court for clarification as to whether the … statements by Mr. Sneddon violate the protective order.”

Some legal experts had already suggested that Sneddon acted inappropriately and that his comments open the door for accusations that he was using the power of the grand jury to silence people whom he did not intend to call as witnesses, reports Reuters.

“Mr. Sneddon has said publicly that he has not violated the gag order,” the prosecutor’s spokeswoman, Susan Tellem, said in response to the court filing by Jackson’s attorneys.

Jackson, 45, is scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 31 on a 10-count indictment charging him with child molestation and conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty.

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