A California appeals court on Friday revived lawsuits from two men who allege Michael Jackson sexually abused them for years when they were boys.
A three-judge panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the lawsuits of Wade Robson and James Safechuck should not have been dismissed by a lower court, and that the men can validly claim that the two Jackson-owned corporations that were named as defendants in the cases had a responsibility to protect them. A new California law that temporarily broadened the scope of sexual abuse cases enabled the appeals court to restore them.
It’s the second time the lawsuits — brought by Robson in 2013 and Safechuck the following year — have been brought back after dismissal. The two men became more widely known for telling their stories in the 2019 HBO documentary “ Leaving Neverland.”
A judge who dismissed the suits in 2021 found that the corporations, MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc., could not be expected to function like the Boy Scouts or a church where a child in their care could expect their protection. Jackson, who died in 2009, was the sole owner and only shareholder in the companies.
The higher court judges disagreed, writing that “a corporation that facilitates the sexual abuse of children by one of its employees is not excused from an affirmative duty to protect those children merely because it is solely owned by the perpetrator of the abuse.”
They added that “it would be perverse to find no duty based on the corporate defendant having only one shareholder. And so we reverse the judgments entered for the corporations.”
Jonathan Steinsapir, attorney for the Jackson estate, said they were “disappointed.”
“Two distinguished trial judges repeatedly dismissed these cases on numerous occasions over the last decade because the law required it,” Steinsapir said in an email to The Associated Press. “We remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations, which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration, and which were only first made years after Michael’s death by men motivated solely by money.”
Vince Finaldi, an attorney for Robson and Safechuck, said in an email that they were “pleased but not surprised” that the court overturned the previous judge’s “incorrect rulings in these cases, which were against California law and would have set a dangerous precedent that endangered children throughout state and country. We eagerly look forward to a trial on the merits.”
Steinsapir had argued for the defense in July that it does not make sense that employees would be legally required to stop the behavior of their boss.
“It would require low-level employees to confront their supervisor and call them pedophiles,” Steinsapir said.
Holly Boyer, another attorney for Robson and Safechuck, countered that the boys “were left alone in this lion’s den by the defendant’s employees. An affirmative duty to protect and to warn is correct.”
Steinsapir said evidence that has been gathered in the cases, which have not reached trial, showed that the parents had no expectation of Jackson’s employees to act as monitors.