21:17, November 18 258 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-18 21:17:04
California moves to resurrect lawsuits at heart of Michael Jackson documentary

A California appeals court appeared strongly inclined Monday to give new life to lawsuits filed by two men who accuse Michael Jackson of repeatedly molesting them when they were boys.

In a tentative ruling, three judges said that lawsuits from James Safechuck and Wade Robson against two corporate entities that Jackson owned should be reconsidered by the trial court that dismissed them in 2017.

Robson, 37, and Safechuck, 41, who became known to a broad audience when they aired their accusations earlier this year in the Emmy-winning HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, sat together in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom during Monday’s brief hearing.

Outside, their attorney Vince Finaldi said the decision was the right one, and they are pleased.

“All they’ve ever wanted is their day in court,” Finaldi said.

The move marks a high-profile outcome for a new California law signed last month by state governor Gavin Newsom, which raised the age ceiling for victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits from age 28 to age 40.It also gives victims of all ages a three-year window to sue, starting 1 January.

The new law was proposed in the wake of the scandal involving Larry Nassar, the former US Olympic gymnastics teams doctor convicted of sexually abusing young athletes.

Previously, survivors of child sexual abuse had to file a lawsuit within eight years of becoming an adult. The new law has opened the floodgates to a wave of potential lawsuits, and advocates said the reforms have given new hope to victims who previously had no options in the legal system to seek justice.

“The idea that someone who is assaulted as a child can actually run out of time to report that abuse is outrageous,” said Lorena Gonzalez, the California assemblywoman, when she introduced the bill. “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.”

With the new law in place, lawyers are anticipating a surge of litigation that could impact institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, along with school districts, hospitals, youth sports groups and other entities.

The tentative decision does not revive the actual Jackson estate as a defendant. A 2015 decision throwing out that part of the lawsuit will stand. The remaining defendants are the two corporate entities, MJJ Productions Inc, and MJJ Ventures, Inc.

Attorneys for Jackson’s estate accepted that the cases must be returned to the trial court under the new legislation, but emphasized that the ruling is unrelated to the allegations they have long denounced as demonstrably false.

“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.”