Michael Jackson accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck will get to tell their story in court after all.
The two alleged victims featured in the bombshell four-hour HBO documentary Leaving Neverland —who both claimed Michael Jackson sexually molested them when they were children — will have their case tried against the late King of Pop’s companies in front of a jury in the lower courts, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE.
Three appellate court judges (Justices Elizabeth Grimes, John Wiley and Victor Viramontes) of the California Court of Appeal have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and against Jackson’s MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures companies, two corporations for which Jackson was the sole owner and lone shareholder.
“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision. Two distinguished trial judges repeatedly dismissed these cases on numerous occasions over the last decade because the law required it. 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. We trust that the truth will ultimately prevail with Michael’s vindication yet again. Michael Jackson himself said, ‘lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons,'” says Jonathan Steinsapir, attorney for the Estate of Michael Jackson.
“The Estate will likely ask the California Supreme Court to review the decision, and a settlement is not on the table,” a source close to the Jackson Estate tells PEOPLE exclusively.
The ruling obtained by PEOPLE details Robson and Safechuck’s claims that Jackson molested them after the megastar befriended the two on separate occasions in the late ’80s and early ’90s. They are suing the Jackson corporations together and will eventually have a set court date, so long as the defense doesn’t take the case to the Supreme Court (odds are against them as the Supreme Court only take a limited number of cases a year).
For decades, both men stayed quiet and kept their alleged abuse a secret from their family, friends and even their wives, they previously claimed. In the 2019 documentary, they described having breakdowns when their first children were born. What Robson and Safechuck say allegedly happened at Neverland during their childhood began to wreak havoc on their mental health.
Robson alleges that Jackson began sexually abusing him when he was 7 years old in 1990 and continued to do so for seven years. Safechuck’s alleged sexual abuse began in Paris in 1988, when he was 10 years old, and continued for four years until 1992.
The 37-page ruling also sets out Robson’s and Safechuck’s allegations that MJJ Productions staff were complicit and aided Jackson in grooming and sexually abusing children and covering it up. The ruling mentions Jackson’s employees also implemented policies that allowed the singer to be alone with children — some who slept overnight several times a week in Jackson’s bedroom. Employees allegedly found both Robson and Safechuck’s underwear on the floor beside his bed.
“The defendants ignore the fact that Jackson’s house was staffed with employees who enacted policies and procedures to isolate Jackson and these children knowing that Jackson had sexually abused minors before and was sexually abusing these plaintiffs,” said one of their attorneys Holly Boyer during the video conference hearing on July 26.
Boyer then paused a moment before continuing: “These are children. The idea that there is no responsibility to do anything ignores the context. Their dependence and vulnerability are implicit in their age. In a case of an affirmative duty to protect children from sexual abuse, we do require that the employees of the entity take those steps. At the heart of what we are talking about is the sexual abuse of children, which is something we need to protect against.”
In May 2013, Robson, 46, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Jackson estate. A year later, Safechuck, 40, did the same. The trial court dismissed both cases because the complaint wasn’t filed within the statute of limitations.
California Law required the suits to be filed before they turned 26. At the time they filed, they were 30 and 36, respectively. But in October 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law giving those who allege childhood sexual abuse longer to file lawsuits — but their cases were dismissed again in April 2021. A judge ruled that Michael Jackson’s companies had no legal obligation to protect boys from sexual abuse.
Vince Finaldi, another attorney for Robson and Safechuck, appealed the case. This is the second time the California appeals court has taken steps to restore their lawsuits.
Now, the ruling will allow both men to move forward. They must prove two points in court to be compensated: First, that Jackson sexually assaulted them, and second, that his corporations who employed his staff were complicit in the alleged abuse.
Mariano Quindoy, the estate manager at Neverland — a ranch at Jackson’s estate with a fully functional amusement park — started working there in 1989 for a year and claims to have witnessed “several incidents of suspicious activity,” according to the complaint, including watching “Jackson put his hand down the front of Safechuck’s shorts while the two were in the jacuzzi.” Safechuck also alleges that Jackson abused him “hundreds of times in various locations.”
The complaint also alleges security staff were instructed to keep their distance when Jackson had “play time” at Neverland with any children — and that staff needed to keep any parents away and have them sleep in the guest quarters apart from the main house overnight.
According to Robson’s portion of the lawsuit, security staff joked that Jackson had no girlfriends “because he likes little boys” and that “he likes little white butts.” Jackson’s security guard Charli Michaels also allegedly saw “Jackson put his hand on Robson’s crotch” on another occasion, and she witnessed “Jackson holding Robson’s genitals in a dance studio.”
“Despite the allegations of what Safechuck’s complaints were, there is no evidence that the corporations’ employees assured Robson’s parents that he would be well taken care of,” argued Jackson’s attorney Jonathan Steinsapir virtually in court.
“There is no evidence that Robson’s parents were instructed by corporate employees to sleep only in guest quarters, no evidence that he was allegedly molested at a recording studio controlled and staffed by the corporations. I also want to make clear that every assertion in there by witnesses are allegations — they are not proof, and if this tentative [ruling] holds, we believe they will not be proven because they are not true.”
Robson and Safechuck were staunch Jackson supporters when he was first accused in 1993 of sexually abusing a child, 13-year-old Jordan Chandler. Jackson settled with the Chandler family out of court for a reported $25 million. In Leaving Neverland, Robson says: “I was excited by the idea of being able to defend him. And being able to save him.”
Robson took the stand in Jackson’s defense when the pop star was put on trial for similar allegations for molesting 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo in 2005. A jury found Jackson not guilty. At age 22, Robson told the court that he spent the night in Jackson’s bed but was never molested and their relationship was innocent. Years later, Robson claimed he lied in court.
According to multiple news reports, prosecutors wanted to name Safechuck — who had provided a witness statement defending Jackson in the 1993 suit — as one of the singer’s alleged victims. However, he declined to participate in the 2005 trial, and was subsequently excluded as a potential victim by the prosecution. Safechuck later claimed that he had lied to prosecutors in 1993.
In the documentary, Safechuck says he told Jackson that he did not want to testify, which also angered the singer. Safechuck said he informed his mother that Jackson was “not a good person” and didn’t want to be involved with the case because of his own turmoil. He begged his mom not to tell anyone else and she agreed to protect him, he added.
Safechuck reportedly first met his idol in the the late 1980s, when he was a child. He was cast in a 1987 Pepsi commercial featuring Jackson, and the two stayed in touch afterward. By 1988, Safechuck was a frequent travel companion for the singer, even tagging along for portions of his Bad Tour for six months.
In Jackson’s hotel room, he allegedly told Safechuck that he “was going to change his life by showing him how to masturbate,” before demonstrating on himself, and then coaching him to try. The suit alleges that the sexual acts were told to him as a way of “showing love,” and that Jackson “kissed his genitals,” and had the child “rub and suck Jackson’s nipples as he masurbated,” among many other sexual acts, the suit claims.
Jackson allegedly performed a faux marriage ceremony and repeatedly instructed Safechuck to deny any abuse allegations and to keep their relationship confidential. Safechuck claims that when he was around 12 years old, Jackson began to lose interest in him for another younger boy and began to prepare him for separation.
Like Safechuck, Robson was a child when he first met Jackson after being called up on stage at a concert in Brisbane, Australia in 1987. The 5-year-old boy was a fan and impressed the audience with his spot-on “Smooth Criminal” dance performance. Jackson invited him and his mom Joy up to his hotel room after the concert, and Jackson told them to get in touch if they ever returned to the States, Robson says in the documentary.
In January 1990, when Robson was 7, the family traveled to California for the first time and after reaching out to Jackson, they were invited to Neverland for the weekend. Robson stayed at the residence with the singer while the rest of his family left to tour the Grand Canyon. Robson claims that’s when the sexual contact began and continued for seven years. The suit further alleges that Jackson abused Robson by fondling his penis, engaging in oral sex and attempting anal rape in Jackson’s bedroom, the dance and recording studio, jacuzzi and hotels.
Jackson’s lawyer Steinsapir argued in virtual court that the company had no legal duty to protect Robson or anyone else from Jackson, because it could not control him. The main issue in this trial revolves around whether Jackson’s production companies had a “legal duty” to protect Robson and Safechuck from the sexual abuse they allegations against Jackson, especially in his own home. According to the suit, no staff members reported the alleged abuse to authorities.
In the documentary, both men describe Jackson’s death from a propofol overdose in June 2009 as a crucial moment in their lives. Robson said that he cried more than he did for his own father’s death, while Safechuck mourned the loss of their lost friendship. It wasn’t until after Robson’s son Koa was born in 2010, he added, that he confronted what allegedly happened to him.
In the doc, Safechuck mentions the last conversation he had with Jackson was shortly after the 2005 trial when he called to apologize for not being there for him. He struggled with a deep depression while hiding his truth from loved ones, except his mother. “Secrets will eat you up,” says Safechuck in the documentary. “It sucks life out of you. It just deteriorates you from the inside, like part of you is dead.”
After 36 minutes, attorney Boyer concluded in the virtual courtroom that she wanted to remind everyone what Robson and Safechuck’s case is really about.
“What we are talking about here are 7 and 10 year old children who were entirely ill-equipped to protect themselves against sexual abuse by their trusted mentor Michael Jackson. They were not even aware of the expressions of love offered by Jackson — were indeed torturous forms of sexual abuse that haunted these plaintiffs of their lives and into adultdood,” she says, pleading to the judges. “And the plaintiffs were left alone in this lions’ den by the defendants’ employees.”
With the latest ruling, the three-judge panel overturned a pivotal case that has spanned for years. “I want to be able to speak the truth as loud as I had to speak the lie for so long,” Robson said in Leaving Neverland.
We don’t even know what to say.