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Michael Jackson case kicks off

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Los Angeles (Reuters): Jury selection began today day in a bitter court fight between Michael Jackson and a former porn producer who figured prominently in the pop star's child molestation trial. Jackson was not expected to testify at the trial of a 4 million dollar breach of contract lawsuit by ex-business associate Marc Schaffel and was not in court as a pool of prospective jurors was summoned to a Santa Monica courtroom. Prosecutors named Schaffel an ''unindicted co-conspirator'' in Jackson's sex abuse case and accused him of helping the entertainer intimidate his young accuser and the boy's family. After a sensational four-month trial, a jury exonerated Jackson on all charges in June 2005.
Schaffel, who produced gay porn before working with Jackson on a charity single and two TV specials, sued the 47-year-old pop star for failing to pay him more than $3.8 million. Jackson has counter-sued, calling Schaffel a ''swindler'' who misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars. The trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, begins one day after Jackson announced that he would move to Europe to reignite his pop career with his first new studio album since 2001 and a possible supporting tour.

Prosecutors asserted during Jackson's child molestation trial that the singer, who ruled the pop charts in the 1980s with such albums as ''Thriller'' and ''Bad'' had fallen on hard times. Since the trial Jackson has mostly lived in Bahrain and earlier this year California authorities ordered the man who once crowned himself King of Pop to shutter his Neverland Valley Ranch for failing to pay the staff and maintain proper insurance.

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