It looks like a federal judge is siding with Michael Jackson’s estate in their ongoing dispute over the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which resulted in their mission to take HBO to arbitration. The judge ended up tentatively declining HBO’s request to throw out the case Thursday.
The four-hour documentary on the late pop star features serious allegations of two men, Wade Robson, and James Safechuck, who say they were sexually abused by #MichaelJackson over the course of a number of years when they were young boys.
MJ’s estate claimed that in airing the documentary, the network violated a 27-year-old non-disparagement agreement from a 1992 concert film made during Jackson’s “Dangerous” tour.
The agreement stated that “HBO shall not make any disparaging remarks concerning [Michael Jackson]… or do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation of [Michael Jackson.]” In addition, the agreement contained a clause that all disputes regarding this agreement would be handled in arbitration.
Since HBO went ahead and released the documentary anyway, Jackson’s estate took it to court to seek a public arbitration of the contract dispute.
HBO didn’t seem to care too much about that agreement, as they filed a motion in August asking that the estate’s lawsuit be dismissed, citing the First Amendment. “It was filed to chill speech,” said the network’s attorney Theodore Boutrous in court, “It was filed to tell the world, ‘Don’t talk about child sex abuse.’ … A company like HBO may be able to fight back and move forward. Others might not be able to do that.”
Federal Judge George Wu acknowledged that the legal issues in the case are close calls, and that his ruling will likely be appealed anyway. He referred to the fight between Jackson’s estate and HBO as a “clash of the titans.” Wu is expected to make a final ruling by the end of the month, according to Variety.
As you may recall, Jackson was found innocent in court and adamantly denied allegations of sexual abuse until he passed away in 2009.