Lawyers are returning to court today (Feb. 13) in Santa Barbara, Calif., to set a date for Michael Jackson's preliminary hearing in his child-molestation case.

Lawyers are returning to court today (Feb. 13) in Santa Barbara, Calif., to set a date for Michael Jackson's preliminary hearing in his child-molestation case.

Jackson's attorney, Mark Geragos, said the entertainer did not plan to attend Friday's pretrial hearing. Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville told the defendant last month that he was not required to attend most pretrial sessions.

"There are no surprises planned," Geragos said. "It should be a quiet hearing."

Jackson is charged with seven counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 and two counts of giving the child an "intoxicating agent." He pleaded innocent Jan. 16.

On the court docket for today were discussions of a publicity gag order that prevents everyone in the case from commenting outside court. The defense has asked for what it called a "safe harbor" provision that would allow lawyers to respond to rumors and misinformation being circulated in the press. Melville has said he would be open to such an exception if it can be structured to his liking.

Media lawyers will be asking to unseal many documents in the case, including search warrants and affidavits which allowed the seizure of a dozen computer hard drives belonging to Jackson. Search warrants for Jackson's Neverland estate also remain sealed.

Normally, such warrants become public record 10 days after they are executed. Prosecutors have asked to keep them sealed on grounds that a special privilege applies in cases where allegations of molestation are involved.

Meanwhile, Jackson's music manager denied a report yesterday that the singer is in financial trouble and must make a $70 million payment to a lender by Tuesday (Feb. 17). Charles Koppelman said no payment was due in that amount to Bank of America or anyone else. The New York Times reported that Jackson owed $70 million to the bank under a long-standing loan agreement.

Koppelman said Jackson's assets far exceed his debts, but declined to go into detail about the singer's money. He said Jackson, like most people with large assets, also has large debts and Jackson routinely renegotiates loans. He said Jackson would be involved in a significant financial transaction in the next few days but declined to provide details.

"Michael is an individual who has the ability to generate huge sums of money," Koppelman said.

Bank of America spokeswoman Jennifer Tice declined comment on the report.



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