In a tentative ruling, three 2nd District Court of Appeal judges said the lawsuits of James Safechuck and Wade Robson against two of the late pop legend’s corporations should be reconsidered. The cases were dismissed in 2017.
Robson, 37, and Safechuck, 31, attended a brief hearing on Nov. 18 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, the Associated Press reported. The two men sued Jackson’s estate over claims he sexually assaulted them for years between the ages of seven and 14 years old at the pop star’s Neverland Ranch in California’s Santa Barbara County.
The controversy was highly publicized in the media and more recently in the Emmy-winning documentary, “Leaving Neverland.” The film led to protests by fans of the late King of Pop, as well as another documentary, “Michael Jackson: Chase the Truth,” that challenged the allegations presented in “Leaving Neverland.”
The suit against the Jackson estate itself was thrown out of court in 2015. The recent ruling of the appellate court will not revive that case.
The remaining lawsuits are against Jackson’s companies MJJ Ventures, Inc. and MJJ Productions, Inc. These lawsuits, filed in 2013, were dismissed because the statutes of limitations had expired. However, a new California law, Assembly Bill 218, gives alleged victims of child sexual abuse more time to seek justice.
“This new law extends the time for genuine victims of abuse to file legal claims,” said Howard L Weitzman, Jackson estate attorney, in a statement. “The appellate court’s tentative ruling is not on the merits of Robson and Safechuck’s allegations and the court in no way said that these cases will go to trial. Neither does it reverse the 2015 rulings dismissing Robson and Safechuck’s claims against the estate, which are final and no longer subject to any appeals. We are confident that the claims against Michael Jackson’s corporate entities will, once again, be dismissed as has happened before.”
Jackson was acquitted in his 2005 criminal trial, during which Robson testified the singer had never molested or mistreated him. Safechuck once said the same to authorities investigating the allegations. But the men and their lawyers now claim stress and trauma that followed them into adulthood finally led them to accept that they had been sexually abused, reported the AP.
Robson first met Jackson when he was five years old. He danced onstage with Jackson in his native Australia and was later invited to visit Neverland. Safechuck, a former child actor, appeared with Jackson in a Pepsi commercial when he was eight.
California’s AB 218 increased the statute of limitations on reporting childhood sexual assault by 14 years—from the time an alleged victim is 26 years old to age 40—and extends the period for delayed reasonable discovery claims from three to five years. Starting Jan. 1, the new law will give victims of all ages a three-year window to revive past claims that might have expired under the statute of limitations.
The bill, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), was passed by the California State Assembly with a 69–0 vote and by a 33–0 vote in the state Senate.
“The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous,” Gonzalez said in a media release when the bill was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 13.
“More and more, we’re hearing about people who were victims years ago but were not ready to come forward to tell their story until now. We shouldn’t be telling victims their time is up when in reality we need them to come forward to protect the community from future abuse,” she said.
In cases where a child is sexually assaulted, the new law includes a provision that allows courts to award damages to the victim from anyone found guilty of engaging in a cover-up
The California Civil Liberties Advocacy (CCLA) opposed the bill, contending that it will “negatively impact civil defendants because the availability and reliability of evidence diminishes over time.”
In his lifetime, Jackson earned about $2 billion (when adjusted for inflation) according to Forbes and was named the highest paid entertainer in the world twice. However, Jackson’s lavish lifestyle led him deep into debt and to the brink of financial ruin. When he died, Michael Jackson’s net worth was $236 million, according to the AP.
Over the last decade, Jackson’s relatives have earned about $2.1 billion—more money than Michael earned while he was alive, according to Forbes.
“Leaving Neverland” has already damaged Jackson’s legacy. Money magazine reported in March that fashion brand Louis Vuitton scrapped a Jackson-inspired collection, while radio stations in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand boycotted his songs. The Jackson estate and HBO are currently embroiled in a lawsuit over the controversial film.