Appeals court sends ‘Leaving Neverland’ fight to arbitration

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a lawsuit filed by the Michael Jackson estate over an HBO documentary about two of the late pop star’s sex abuse accusers can go forward in private arbitration.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with two lower courts and ruled in favor of the Jackson estate in its decision on “Leaving Neverland.”

Unless there are further appeals, the case will go to a private arbitrator, which the Jackson estate argued was required by the 1992 contract at the center of the lawsuit.

That means the proceedings will be largely shielded from public view, though Jackson attorneys said in court filings that they would like for them to be as open as possible and sought private arbitration because it was the only way available to sue under the contract.

The decades-old agreement to put a Jackson concert on HBO required that the cable channel not disparage Jackson, which the lawsuit says it did by airing the molestation allegations of Wade Robson and James Safechuck in “Leaving Neverland.”

“In the court’s own words, HBO ‘agreed that it would not make any disparaging remarks concerning Jackson,’” estate attorneys Howard Weitzman and Jonathan Steinsapir said in a statement. “It’s time for HBO to answer for its violation of its obligations to Michael Jackson.”

HBO had argued that the provision was no longer valid because both sides had performed their parts of the agreement. HBO has also more generally defended “Leaving Neverland” as a valid and important piece of documentary journalism.

HBO representative Karen Jones did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the decision.

Jackson’s estate and family have said the documentary’s allegations are false and came from two men who previously told authorities they were not molested.

In separate cases, Safechuck and Robson sued two corporations created by Jackson over their allegations.

Safechuck’s lawsuit was dismissed last month.

“Leaving Neverland” director Dan Reed has been filming the hearings in those cases for a follow-up documentary.

Jackson died in 2009 at age 50.

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Follow Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton

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