Judge rules that Jay Leno can tell jokes about Michael Jackson

Saturday, March 12, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- The judge in the Michael Jackson trial delivered the punch line Friday that Jay Leno has been wanting to hear: The comedian is allowed to crack jokes at Jackson's expense.

Judge Rodney S. Melville made his ruling about Leno as he clarified a gag order preventing everyone involved in the case from discussing it. Leno has been subpoenaed to testify at the trial, and the comedian feared that the order would apply to his monologues on "The Tonight Show."

"I am not attempting to prevent anybody from making a living in the normal way that they make their living," the judge ruled, adding that Leno may not talk about the specific things to which he is a witness.

Leno has been finding creative ways to make jokes about Jackson without opening his mouth.

After arriving "late" for the taping of Thursday's "Tonight Show," Leno stepped out of a black limousine wearing SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas and accompanied by several bodyguards. One of the bodyguards held an open umbrella over Leno's head as the comedian remained silent when asked why he was late.

Late for court

Earlier in the day, Jackson had arrived late to court wearing pajama bottoms and a T-shirt under a coat.

His attorneys explained the pop star had come straight from a hospital where he had been treated for a back injury caused by a fall.

"They're ruling on my gag order tomorrow to see if I'm allowed to tell Jackson jokes," he told his audience Thursday. "I'm not legally allowed to tell Michael Jackson jokes, but I can still write them."

Then, as he has in recent days, he called on another comedian, Drew Carey, to handle that night's Jackson duty.

"Michael Jackson showed up to court late today wearing his pajama bottoms," Carey told the audience. "You know what? You find the kid wearing the pajama top and we have another court case on our hands."

Leno may be called to testify about having contact with Jackson's accuser or his mother. The defense contends the family tried to bilk Leno and others out of money.

Jackson attorney Robert Sanger said Leno has made "very cruel jokes" about the pop star that could affect how he might testify, and he urged the judge to restrict Leno further.

"We're not putting him out of his business if he can't talk about Michael Jackson for a few weeks," Sanger said.

Media attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. argued for the clarification on the gag order on grounds Leno's First Amendment rights were violated.

The judge also joked about Leno on Friday, saying "I'd like him to tell good jokes ... but I guess I can't control that."

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