Michael Jackson’s estate looks like it could be heading into arbitration with HBO over its airing of the documentary Leaving Neverland, which it argues violated a 1992 non-disparagement clause signed by the King of Pop.
Judge George Wu denied a motion Thursday to dismiss the estate’s case against the cable network, indicating that he may decide to grant a request for arbitration when he issues final ruling by September’s end, reports Variety.
The estate, in a $100 million lawsuit it filed against HBO, accuses the broadcaster of breaching a contract that was signed by the Jackson back in 1992 when his Dangerous World Tour aired on the premium cable channel.
The suit argues that the documentary does this by suggesting that Jackson molested children while he was on the Dangerous World Tour.
‘It is hard to imagine a more direct violation of the non-disparagement clause,’ declares the suit.
It also calls the two men at the center of the documentary, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, ‘admitted perjurers,’ and mocks current HBO president Richard Pepler, calling him a ‘failure’.
Leaving Neverland premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was later broadcast in two parts on March 3 and 4.
The Jackson family is suing HBO for $100 million in an attempt to stop the release of the documentary Leaving Neverland (Michael Jackson and Wade Robson, aged 5, in 1989)
Victim: The filing also calls the two men at the center of the documentary, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, ‘admitted perjurers’ (Safechuck and Jackson above circa 1989)
Scene of the ‘crime’: Jackson’s estate is demanding $100 million, claiming that airing the doc would breach a 1992 non-disparagement clause signed by the King of Pop (Neverland above)
The estate, upset with HBO for not including its rebuttal to the allegations in the documentary, now wants the court to approve the arbitration request to resolve the contract dispute.
HBO has resisted, saying the agreement – which has been in place for 26 years – no longer applies.
Attorney Theodore Boutrous, one of the lawyers representing HBO, had tried to throw the case out under California’s anti-SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public participation, law.
The law discourages frivolous lawsuits intended to chill speech that would be of interest to the public.
But Wu found that it did not apply in a request for arbitration.
Boutrous on Thrusday asked the judge to reconsider, reports Variety.
‘It was filed to chill speech,’ he argued about the estate’s demand.
‘It was filed to tell the world, ‘Don’t talk about child sex abuse. A company like HBO may be able to fight back and move forward. Others might not be able to do that.’
John Branca, a co-executor of Jackson’s estate, was not surprised by the lawyer’s persistence on behalf of the network. He claimed HBO doesn’t want both sides heard.
‘I’ve never seen a media organization fight so hard to keep a secret,’ he told Variety.
‘We’re saying let’s get all the facts out there, not just two stories from two accusers with a financial interest.’
An HBO spokesperson said the network was awaiting the Judge’s final decision.
‘Michael may not have lived his life according to society’s norms, but genius and eccentricity are not crimes. Nothing and no one can rewrite the facts which show that Michael Jackson is indeed innocent of the charges being levied at him by HBO in its ‘documentary’ Leaving Neverland,’ states the lawsuit, which opens with a lengthy, and unorthodox, introduction.
‘No one-sided ‘documentary’ can substitute for a real documentary, or for a trial where both sides are heard, competent evidence is presented, and witnesses are cross-examined.’
The introduction then goes after HBO, stating that the network is so ‘desperate for eyeballs that its growing irrelevance to the cord-cutting generation was crystallized when its chief rival bluntly stated in its January earnings report that it considers a popular online game to be a more serious competitor than HBO.’
Robson and Safechuck are described as ‘admitted perjurers, one of whom is a self-described ‘master of deception,’ whose litigations have played out in the courts as a failed melodrama for more than five years.’
The lawsuit goes on to state: ‘With more holes in their stories than anyone can count, both view Michael Jackson, the man who they previously swore was an inspiration and did nothing to them, as a lottery ticket through accusations never brought during Michael’s life.
‘They never brought these claims during Michael’s life, because they knew Michael would have held them both legally accountable for their defamation, just as Michael had held the ‘reporter’ Victor Gutierrez—who seems to be the true author of these two men’s fictional tales—liable before a jury for millions of dollars when he falsely made similar claims about Jackson.’
The documentary is also biased and one-sided, according to Branca and John McClain, another co-executor of Jackson’s estate, who filed the suit along with Optimum Productions.
‘[Producer] Dan Reed made no attempt to review the legal records from Robson’s and Safechuck’s litigations with the Estate, where the judge found that Robson had lied under oath during the litigations on key issues; and where Robson was caught red-handed hiding crucial evidence from the court, from the Jackson Estate, and even from his own lawyers,’ states the court record.
‘Reed even ignored the fact that these men are still pursuing claims against the Jackson Estate for hundreds of millions of dollars so they have hundreds of millions of reasons to lie.’
Robson, Safechuck and Reed are not named in the suit as defendants.
‘Dan Reed is an award-winning filmmaker who has carefully documented these survivors’ accounts,’ said HBO in a statement.
‘People should reserve judgment until they see the film.’
Unfair: The documentary is also biased and one-sided, according to the co-executors of Jackson’s estate, John Branca and John McClain (Safechuck above)
Allegations: ‘He was arguably the most famous person on the planet but possibly also one of the loneliest,’ says the suit of Jackson (Robson above)
The two-page introduction to the suit closes by naming Jackson’s children as the real victims in the case.
‘The real victims here are the primary beneficiaries of the Estate, Michael’s three children, who are forced to endure this attack on their father, ten years after they buried him, and when he has no chance to respond,’ states the lawsuit.
‘Michael Jackson can never be silenced. His music and artistry live, as does his innocence. They will long outlast false claims, gossip, and allegations spread by those who seek to make money off him. In the end, this ‘documentary’ will say much more about HBO than it ever could about Michael Jackson.’
Later in the filing, Jackson himself is also portrayed as a victim.
‘Michael Jackson had no childhood of his own. From the age of 10, he was the primary breadwinner for his very large family, and never enjoyed a normal childhood,’ states the filing.
‘As he explained in the only medium (songwriting) where he could explain himself: ‘It’s been my fate to compensate, for the childhood I’ve never known… Before you judge me, try hard to love me, Look within your heart then ask, Have you seen my Childhood?”
The filing then claims: ‘He was arguably the most famous person on the planet but possibly also one of the loneliest.’
And it is Pepler who is the main target.
‘Content has been a real problem during Richard Plepler’s tenure as CEO of HBO. With the one exception of Game of Thrones, all of the cutting-edge, and now classic, original content that is associated with HBO—The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Entourage, Sex and the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc.—was from the era when Chris Albrecht ran HBO,’ reads the suit.
‘With Albrecht’s departure in 2007, Richard Plepler took over. And Plepler has almost entirely failed where Albrecht succeeded: original content. With Netflix and others in the industry now, HBO picked the wrong time to fail in original content.’