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Lawsuits from two Michael Jackson accusers can move to trial, court rules

Lawsuits from two men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them when they were children can move forward to a jury trial, a California appeals court ruled on Friday.

The two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, were featured in the 2019 HBO documentary series Leaving Neverland, which detailed their allegations against Jackson, who died in 2009.

Robson and Safechuck in 2013 and 2014 filed lawsuits against MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, Jackson’s production companies that were owned by the singer at the time of his death.

The lawsuits were initially dismissed in 2017 for being past the statute of limitations. But in 2020, a new California law extended the statute of limitations for survivors who were children at the time of their abuse, allowing the two cases to be revived.

In 2020 and 2021, a Los Angeles judge again dismissed the lawsuit, ruling the companies had “no legal ability” to control Jackson, since he was the sole owner of the company.

But on Friday, a three-judge panel from California’s second district court of appeals said it disagreed with the judge and said the case can move forward to a jury trial.

“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,” the judges wrote in their decision. “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.”

Robson, who is now 40, said that Jackson abused him from age seven to 14. Safechuck, who is now 45, said that Jackson abused him over the course of four years, starting around the end of 1988, when he was 10. Both men allege that company employees did not adequately protect them from Jackson, helping to coordinate visits and ensuring Jackson could be alone with them.

Lawyers for Jackson’s companies and his estate maintain that Jackson was innocent and was targeted by the men for his name and money.

“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,” Jonathan Steinsapir, a lawyer for Jackson’s estate, said in a statement after the decision from the appeal’s court.

Holly Boyer, an attorney for Robson and Safechuck, told the Associated Press in response that the men, as boys, “were left alone in this lion’s den by the defendant’s employees”.

“An affirmative duty to protect and to warn is correct,” Boyer said.

The release of Leaving Neverland in 2019 sparked the first debate around Jackson’s legacy since the #MeToo movement, which saw a reckoning around sexual abuse in Hollywood and other industries.

During his lifetime, Jackson faced two investigations into allegations of sexual abuse of children. In 1994, charges were dropped once the primary alleged victim decided not to testify, and Jackson reached an estimated $20m settlement with the boys’ family. Then in 2005, a jury in California acquitted Jackson from charges of child molestation and serving alcohol to minors.

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