Pop star Michael Jackson ignored court pleas to arrive early for today's (16JAN04) arraignment hearing and turned up 15 minutes late.

The authorities urged the pop superstar to arrive at the courthouse in Santa Maria, California, at 8.15am to make sure he could escape press and an army of fans in time to take the stand on time at 8.30am.

But Jacko's black SUV rolled up to the courthouse at 8.35am and the singer didn't make it into court until 8.44am. For this he was admonished by JUDGE Rodney Melville.

Jackson aides claimed the singer was late because he was forced to hop into an SUV when another vehicle, he was due to arrive at court in, broke down.

The judge announced, "Mr Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot here... I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It's an insult to the court and will not be tolerated."

As expected, Jackson pleaded innocent to child-molestation charges.

Wearing a dark suit, sunglasses, white armband and military-style medallion, Jackson greeted fans upon his arrival before stepping into the courthouse and shaking hands with officials.

Meanwhile, high-powered New York criminal attorney Ben Brafman has joined Jackson's defence team. Brafman is best known for having won an acquittal on weapons and bribery charges for rap mogul SEAN 'P DIDDY' COMBS.

18/01/2004 10:40