A federal judge in Los Angeles has denied a request by attorneys for HBO, paving the way for Michael Jackson‘s estate to continue their lawsuit against the cable giant in connection to the documentary, Leaving Neverland.
The basis of the lawsuit is a 1992 non-disparagement agreement between HBO and Jackson. In it, HBO agreed not to “do any act that may harm or disparage or cause to lower in esteem the reputation of [Jackson]”. On Thursday U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu ruled the agreement is valid and that HBO must adhere to the terms. In his ruling, Judge Wu ordered the suit be moved out of the court system and into arbitration.
The agreement was signed by the parties as part of HBO’s airing rights to Jackson’s 1992 concert film for his “Dangerous” tour. According to Variety, HBO’s attorneys had asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit siting California’s anti-SLAPP statute, aimed at stopping frivolous litigation intended to chill speech on issues of public interest. Judge Wu concluded the anti-SLAPP motion does not apply in this case.
Jackson’s estate filed suit in March after HBO aired the Leaving Neverland documentary. In the two-part series, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, alleged Jackson sexually abused them over several years in the 1990s when they were minors.
Many have criticized the documentary for what they say is a one-sided view of an issue. Michael Jackson’s estate was not interviewed for the documentary, and the documentary glossed over facts, like Jackson’s acquittal in criminal court on suspicion of sexual abuse. Critics have also pointed out the timeline of events laid out in the documentary does not line up.
An example of this is Wade Robson’s insistence that Jackson started molesting him at Neverland ranch in January 1990 when his family went to the Grand Canyon and he stayed behind with Jackson, but according to biographer Mike Smallcombe, Robson’s mother testified under oath in 1993 that Robson came with her to the Grand Canyon, and did not stay behind with Jackson.
Leaving Neverland went on to win an Emmy for Creative Arts for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.