After lawsuits from prominent Michael Jackson accuser Wade Robson were dismissed in 2015 and again in 2017, three judges from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled Monday that both Robson and fellow Jackson accuser James Safechuck could see those dismissals overturned. While leaving the courthouse, Robson told TMZ, “We’re going to trial.”
The landmark ruling is the first high-profile application of Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s Bill 218, approved by Governor Gavin Newsom in October, which extends California’s former eight-year limit on reporting childhood sexual assault to 22 years.
AP reports that on Monday, Robson and Safechuck’s attorney, Vince Finaldi, spoke outside a Los Angeles courthouse. “All they’ve ever wanted is their day in court,” he said of the tentative ruling. The judges’ decision also comes after years of public tumult for Robson specifically, who in 2013 sued the Michael Jackson estate and associated corporate entities MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, for a seven-year period of alleged molestation by Jackson. The case lasted two years, before the court ruled in 2015 that the statute of limitations had expired on Robson’s accusations, who first reported them in 2005 at Jackson’s criminal trial.
In a phone interview with Jezebel, Finaldi said that both the dismissals are indeed being reversed, and that the cases will be sent back to the trial courts, where they will follow the standard litigation and then trial procedure. He also said that since the Jackson estate doesn’t have the statute of limitations defense doesn’t apply anymore, “The question is whether these kids were abused or not.” As Finaldi sees it, “That’s a factual question that a judge cannot decide, it has to be sent to a jury if you’ve requested a jury trial.” (Jackson estate attorney Howard L. Weitzman did not immediately respond to Jezebel’s request for comment, but we will update if and when we hear back.)
After the 2015 ruling, the Michael Jackson estate was dropped from the initial suit. In 2017, a judge dismissed the remaining suit against MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures. As AP reported at the time, the court claimed that the corporate entities representing Jackson’s business interests should not be held accountable for any charges of molestation or sexual assault leveled against the singer.
In the wake of that ruling, Finaldi told AP that the court had set a precarious legal position for future lawsuits, claiming that corporations could now see themselves above the actions of their employees, even if those employees “hire people, use these people to facilitate your sexual abuse, use them to facilitate victims.” Both corporations still operate and control Michael Jackson’s intellectual property, but with the 2015 and 2017 dismissals reversed, Finaldi told Jezebel that both entities are still actively culpable in the alleged abuse and sexual assaults carried out against his clients. “These are the corporations that did everything,” Finaldi said. “They are the ones that negotiated the meetings with the kids, set up the photo shoot, dance rehearsals, dance events, video shoots, everything. They did everything from picking them up to booking plane tickets and reservations in hotels. All of it was orchestrated through these corporations. These were Michael Jackson’s employees.”
In response to the ruling Monday, Jackson estate lawyer Weitzman told the AP:
“This new law extends the time for genuine victims of abuse to file legal claims. 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.”
Finaldi, meanwhile, said that the judges’ official ruling can be expected “within the next few days.” He told Jezebel that Robson and Safechuck are not asking for anything specific of the estate or Jackson’s holding corporations, monetary or otherwise, and that they will leave that decision to the jury.
Update (9:00 p.m.) Below is a statement provided by representatives for the Jackson estate to Jezebel after the publication of this post.
The Jackson Estate understands that the Court of Appeal agrees that these cases must be returned to the trial court to be analyzed under the new law signed by Governor Newsom. This new law extends the time for genuine victims of abuse to file legal claims. 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. Howard L. Weitzman, Attorney for the Estate of Michael Jackson