Judge sides with Jackson estate in 'Leaving Neverland' lawsuit

Ben Arnold
·Contributor
Leaving Neverland (Credit: HBO)
Leaving Neverland (Credit: HBO)

A judge has denied HBO's request to have a lawsuit brought by the Michael Jackson estate against the makers of the documentary Leaving Neverland thrown out of court.

Federal judge George Wu said he would not dismiss the case, and would deliver a full ruling by the end of the month, according to Variety.

Read more: Jackson estate slams Leaving Neverland Emmy win

Leaving Neverland, made by British filmmaker Dan Reed, pivoted on claims from two men, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, that Jackson befriended them as children and later sexually abused them.

The Jackson estate had said that in broadcasting the film, it reneged on a non-disparagement clause that HBO signed when it aired a concert movie from Jackson's Dangerous tour in 1992.

De izquierda a derecha Wade Robson, el director Dan Reed y James Safechuck posan para un retrato durante la promoción del documental "Leaving Neverland" en el Festival de Cine de Sundance, el jueves 24 de enero del 2019 en Park City, Utah. (Foto por Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)
Wade Robson, Dan Reed and James Safechuck (Credit: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

In the contract, HBO agreed not to air disparaging material about the singer in future broadcasts, but it claims that the contract, now 26 years old, no longer applies.

An attorney for the Jackson estate, Bryan J. Freedman said: “HBO has tried everything possible to avoid having a trier of fact adjudicate their wrongdoing.

“If HBO believes its actions were proper then there is no reason for them to try and hide behind procedural technicalities to avoid an arbitration or a trial.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 28, 1993 Pop star Michael Jackson performs the first of two concerts at the National Stadium in Singapore. - A new documentary that accuses Michael Jackson of sexually abusing two boys has been denounced by the late pop star's estate as an "outrageous and pathetic" attempt to exploit his name."Leaving Neverland," which is to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this month, recounts the story of two men who are now in their 30s and allege they were sexually abused by the King of Pop when they were seven and 10. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Jackson performs at the National Stadium in Singapore in 1993 (Credit: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

“Whether in an arbitration, federal court, state court or the court of appeal, the Estate of Michael Jackson will force HBO to be held accountable for its wrongful conduct. The Estate will never stop until justice has been obtained.”

The estate has previously slammed HBO for not including a denial of the claims made by Safechuck and Robson, who they are accusing of acting out of financial gain (Reed has maintained that neither were paid for their participation in the documentary).

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In response to the early judgement HBO's attorney Theodore Boutrous said that the Jackson Estate had filed the lawsuit 'to chill speech'.

“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,” he said.

The estate recently slammed the organisers of the Creative Arts Emmys after the film won its highest award for a documentary film on Sunday night.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Director Dan Reed poses in the press room with the award for outstanding documentary or nonfiction special for Leaving Neverland' during the 2019 Creative Arts Emmy Awards on September 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JC Olivera/WireImage)
Dan Reed (Credit: JC Olivera/WireImage)

“For a film that is a complete fiction to be honored in a nonfiction Emmy category is a complete farce,” a spokesperson for the estate said in a statement.

“Not one shred of proof supports this completely one-sided... so-called documentary which was made in secrecy and for which not one person outside of the two subjects and their families were interviewed.”

Reed paid tribute to Robson and Safechuck on accepting the award.

“None of this would have been possible without the incredible courage and determination of Wade and James and their families, and I wanted to salute that,” he said.

'This is one of the first times we’ve been able to shine light on child sexual abuse. The pattern of how it unfolds is not an easy story to tell… it often remains undisclosed for so many decades, so I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”