Workers for companies owned by Michael Jackson had no legal obligation to protect children from the pop star, a US attorney has told an appeals court.
Jackson estate lawyer Jonathan Steinsapir pushed back against a tentative decision by California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal, which said it was inclined to revive previously dismissed lawsuits from two men who allege Jackson sexually abused them for years when they were boys.
The court’s reasoning, Mr Steinsapir argued, “would require low-level employees to confront their supervisor and call them paedophiles”.
Holly Boyer, an attorney for plaintiffs Wade Robson and James Safechuck, said workers ought to have that responsibility.
“We do require that employees of the entity take those steps, because what we are talking about is the sexual abuse of children,” Ms Boyer told the three-judge panel in the video-conference hearing.
“What we are talking about here is seven and 10-year-old children who are entirely ill-equipped to protect themselves from their mentor, Michael Jackson.”
Ms Boyer added that the boys “were left alone in this lion’s den by the defendant’s employees. An affirmative duty to protect and to warn is correct”.
Jackson died in 2009.
Robson filed his case in 2013 and Safechuck sued the following year. The two men became more widely known for telling their stories in the 2019 HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland.
A judge who dismissed the lawsuits in 2021 found that that MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, two corporations for which Jackson was the sole owner and lone shareholder, could not be expected to function like the Boy Scouts or a church where a child in their care could expect their protection.
Mr Steinsapir said evidence that has been gathered in the cases, which have not reached trial, showed that the parents had no expectation of Jackson’s employees acting as monitors.
He said a deposition from Mr Robson’s mother showed she did not even know the corporations existed when she first brought her seven-year-old son into the pop star’s presence.
“They were not looking to Michael Jackson’s companies for protection from Michael Jackson,” Mr Steinsapir said.
Mr Steinsapir said the assertion in the lawsuit and the court’s tentative decision that the corporations had engaged in negligent hiring was absurd when the person doing the hiring was the alleged offender.
“Any person that might be prone to criminal tendency has a duty not to hire himself?” Mr Steinsapir said.
The hearing dealt only with the legal obligations of companies, not the truth of the men’s allegations, but Mr Steinsapir frequently called them both unproven and untrue.
Mr Robson, now a 40-year-old choreographer, met Jackson when he was five years old. He went on to appear in three Jackson music videos.
His lawsuit alleged that Jackson molested him over a seven-year period.
Mr Safechuck, now 45, said that he was nine when he met Jackson while filming a Pepsi commercial. He said Jackson called him often and lavished him with gifts before moving on to a series of incidents of sexual abuse.