A California judge has refused to reduce Michael Jackson's $3 million (GBP1.6 million) bail pending his trial on child molestation charges, insisting the star can clearly afford it.

Jackson attorney THOMAS MESEREAU asked SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT judge Rodney Melville during a 28 May (04) hearing to reduce the BAD singer's bail, saying it was "grossly excessive" compared to other defendants and suggested a more reasonable amount would be $70,000 (GBP38,800).

Prosecutors objected, saying that Jackson was a potential flight risk and could easily spend $70,000 "in a weekend in Las Vegas".

Melville, in a two-page written ruling, agreed that Jackson's bail exceeded the guidelines for Santa Barbara County.

But, said Melville, "No evidence has been presented and no argument made to suggest that the bail amount represents a financial hardship for the defendant."

Jackson was indicted in April (04) on charges of committing lewd acts on a boy under the age of 14 as well as child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment.

The judge noted that Jackson had twice posted the $3 million (GBP1.6 million) bail "without objection or apparent difficulty" - once after his November (03) arrest and again after he was indicted.

Though Melville set a 13 September (04) trial date for Jackson, he conceded that it may be difficult to begin jury selection in the sensational case that soon.

The next hearing is scheduled for 25 June (04) in the central California city of Santa Maria, though Jackson is likely to skip it with Melville's blessing.

Jackson, 45, has pleaded innocent to the indictment.

15/06/2004 10:01