A legal secretary who was peripherally involved in the first child molestation case concerning Michael Jackson says he was framed.

Geraldine Hughes worked for attorney Barry Rothman in 1993. Rothman represented dentist Evan Chandler (search) in his divorce from his wife, June. Hughes said allegations against Jackson of child molestation arose from a bitter custody dispute between the Chandlers over their then 12-year-old son.

Soon, Hughes is publishing a book of her observations called “Redemption: The Truth Behind the Michael Jackson Allegations.” The book was scheduled for released in January 2004 by tiny Virginia-based Branch and Vine Publications long before the current scandal broke in the news.

Hughes, who kept a daily-annotated calendar during her time with Rothman, told me today in an exclusive interview that among her revelations is the story of a memo between the attorney and Chandler.

“Rothman advised the father how to report child abuse via a third party rather than going directly to the police,” she said. “If it were any other case, you’d just pick up the phone and call the police.”

Hughes said that while she was still working for Rothman, she and her mother contacted and subsequently visited private investigator Anthony Pellicano, and told him what was going on between Rothman and Chandler. (Pellicano is currently in prison for possessing explosives and is under investigation for illegal wire-tapping.)

“He thanked me for the information but he said they were gathering evidence to go to trial,” Hughes said. “He said I could be called as a witness.”

But no trial ever occurred, as Jackson wound up paying a reported settlement of $20 million to the Chandlers.

Hughes — who was fired by Rothman after about six months — claimed the plan to involve Jackson in the Chandlers’ divorce was an “elaborate” one. “You’ve got to see the whole plan,” she said. She claimed, for example, that almost none of the Chandler case was recorded, that very little correspondence exists and that most everything transpired behind closed doors with no secretary present to take notes.

Nevertheless, a pattern of unusual activities emerged in the case, she said.

“I was surprised one day to see the boy in a closed-door session with Rothman with no adult present,” she recalled. “That was very unusual too.”

Hughes also said that even though she was working closely with Rothman, she didn’t know Jackson was being accused of child molestation until she heard it on TV during an office lunch break. Until then, correspondence about Jackson in the Chandler divorce had been limited to June Chandler’s desire to take her kids out of the U.S. with Jackson on tour.

Rothman, in a telephone call, confirmed for me that Hughes did work for him at one time, but that “she was privy to nothing in our office. She may also be in violation of attorney-client privilege,” he said, adding that he would read her book when it came out in January and that he wished her luck with it. As for the closed-door meetings, he agreed that the Chandler case did have little correspondence in the file. “It was mostly meetings,” he said. “And I take my own notes, I never have a secretary do it.”

Well, it had to be: Diane Potter, the Gruner + Jahr exec who wrote the memo about fudging numbers for Rosie O’Donnell‘s magazine, was fired on Friday. Will she be the company scapegoat or are there more to come?

I don’t know how this company cannot give the axe to Dan BrewsterLawrence Diamond and Cindy Spengler. This trio, far more than Potter, conspired against O’Donnell and lied to her and to the court. Let’s hope Potter doesn’t take the fall alone for a group effort of deceit and cunning …

The collective indie studios are suing the Motion Picture Association of America over the prohibition of screening tapes. It’s about time! I told you several weeks ago this mess would cost Jack Valenti the job he’s — improbably — had since 1966. And so it will, when he’s eased out next spring. In the meantime, the courts should rule in the indies’ favor and make sure all the awards groups get their screeners. Last week in front of “Good Morning America”‘s studios on Broadway there were two men selling “Kill Bill,” “Elf” and other current titles as pirated DVDs. It’s not like these films were already available as screeners. Piracy is a different problem than the one Valenti has created!

Just when you thought she was “over,” finished, down for the count, Britney Spears is bigger than ever. The teen pop star, she of the sexually overcharged lip-synching, is going to have the No. 1 album in the country this week with her new offering called “In the Zone.”

Early indications are that Spears will sell between 500,000 and 750,000 copies of the CD, putting her in a comfortable selling zone compared to her last release in 2001. As P.T. Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute.

But CD sales are bringing good news and bad news for Michael Jackson. His “Greatest Hits” album will probably wind up in the 100,000-150,000 range, a substantial fall off from “Invincible,” which sold 370,000 copies its first week in 2001. This means that Jackson still has his loyal following, but the combination of his scandal and the fact that the songs are all available previously means he’ll be lucky to get a gold record (500,000 copies) out of this, his possibly final new release for a long time to come.

On the upside for Jackson, the Beatles “Let it Be … Naked” should sell about 250,000 copies. Technically, Jackson co-owns the publishing to the Beatles song catalog with Sony Music Publishing. I say technically because of course he’s leveraged his half in loans he can’t repay from Sony. The Beatles should be pleased, though. Their marketing skills are still spot-on, since they’ve managed to make a hit out of a record that’s 33 years old. In this atmosphere, that’s quite an accomplishment.