‘Leaving Neverland’ Lawsuit Proves to Be a Judicial Hot Potato

Gene Maddaus

The Michael Jackson estate sued HBO last month for airing the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which accuses the late King of Pop of serial child sexual abuse.

Since then, the case has had a difficult time finding a judge to handle it. Three federal judges have recused themselves in the last week, citing potential financial conflicts of interest.

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The case was initially filed in state court. But on March 13, HBO petitioned to move the case to federal court, where it was randomly assigned to Judge Christina Snyder.

Snyder recused herself last Friday, writing “The undersigned holds a financial interest in AT&T, Inc.,” the parent company of HBO.

The case was then handed to Judge John F. Walter, who recused himself on Wednesday, saying that he, too, holds AT&T stock.

From there it was transferred to Judge Gary Klausner. Klausner did not let a full day go by before backing out, citing “a financial interest in one of the parties.” He did not specify which party, but only one of them is a publicly traded company.

The case has now been assigned to Judge George H. Wu, who will presumably now have to share with the world whether he owns AT&T stock.

“Sooner or later we’ll get one that doesn’t,” said Howard Weitzman, who represents the Jackson estate. “I’m trying not to take it personally.”

The documentary aired on March 3 and 4. It features the testimonies of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who allege that Jackson sexually abused them for years when they were children. Being dead, Jackson cannot be libeled. But the suit alleges that by airing the documentary, HBO violated a non-disparagement agreement in a contract for a 1992 concert film, “Michael Jackson in Concert in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.”

The suit claims the documentary’s damages to Jackson’s legacy could exceed $100 million.

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