Boy's suit against Jackson seen near settlement

January 24, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Attorneys for Michael Jackson and a 14-year-old boy who says the singer sexually molested him are near a settlement of the boy's lawsuit and hope to announce tomorrow that the case has been resolved, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Rumors of an impending settlement have swirled around the case since Jan. 14, when lawyers for both sides met in chambers with Superior Court Judge David Rothman. Afterward, the judge said the attorneys had agreed to halt their public comments on the case.

Since then, a number of reports and courthouse rumors have suggested that a deal was in the works. A London tabloid reported last week that Mr. Jackson had agreed to pay at least $40 million to the boy, while Time Magazine will report this week that the figure is "closer to $5 million."

Sources told the Los Angeles Times yesterday that the deal is for "eight figures" -- somewhere between $10 million and $100 million -- but would not be more specific. Negotiations still are under way, they said, adding that talks have not revolved around the amount of the settlement but around other issues concerning resolution of the civil case.

Larry R. Feldman, the boy's lawyer, did not return phone calls yesterday. Howard Weitzman, a lawyer for Mr. Jackson, also was unavailable for comment.

Motions in the case are scheduled to be heard tomorrow, and if the fine points of a deal still are not agreed to by that time, the session will go ahead as scheduled, sources said. On the other hand, if both sides have resolved the lingering issues by then, the lawyers are expected to announce at that session that the case has been settled. They are not expected to disclose details of any settlement.

Of particular interest to police, sheriff's deputies and prosecutors from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties is what effect a settlement might have on the conduct of their criminal investigation into allegations that Mr. Jackson sexually molested the boy over a period of about four months last year. Investigators have interviewed dozens of witnesses -- including the alleged victim -- as part of that probe.

Legal experts said an agreement could not be written that would prevent the boy from testifying against Mr. Jackson in the criminal case. Such an agreement could be construed as obstructing a criminal investigation and could be punishable under legal provisions that preclude anyone from "compounding crime."

Just as important as the law, however, is a practical question: If the boy were to refuse to testify in the criminal case, would prosecutors be willing to force him to the stand to press their case against Mr. Jackson?

"That's a difficult call," said Harland Braun, an experienced criminal lawyer and former deputy district attorney. "There are two considerations here: You prosecute crimes partly for the victims, but also to protect the public . . . The DA would have to decide how and whether to go ahead given those considerations."

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