Jackson settles civil suit with boy, 14

January 26, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Lawyers for Michael Jackson and a 14-year-old boy who alleged in a lawsuit that the singer sexually molested him announced yesterday that they have settled the case, abruptly ending one chapter of a scandal that has dogged the internationally renowned pop singer since last fall.

Although the attorneys declined to discuss any aspect of the settlement, sources close to the negotiations said it was for between $15 million and $24 million, with some of the money paid to the boy in cash and the rest funneled into a trust fund. The terms of the settlement were reviewed by a judge appointed to serve as the boy's guardian.

After a brief court hearing Tuesday, Larry R. Feldman, the boy's attorney, said he and his client were "very happy with the resolution of this matter."

Despite agreeing to a settlement that sources say will pay millions of dollars to the alleged victim in this case, Mr. Jackson's attorneys said their client stands by his assertions of innocence.

"The resolution of this case is in no way an admission of guilt by Michael Jackson," said attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., one of two lawyers representing Mr. Jackson. "In short, he is an innocent man who does not intend to have his career and his life destroyed by rumors and innuendo."

As part of the settlement, however, Mr. Jackson publicly recanted his claim that he was the victim of an extortion attempt by the boy's father. That claim, long advanced by Mr. Jackson's advisers and by the entertainer himself, has been the mainstay of his defense from the first days of the case, which erupted to public attention in August.

The settlement of the civil case resolves Mr. Jackson's most immediate legal troubles and may effectively put an end to a criminal investigation of him as well. The boy's lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial in March, and a judge had scheduled Mr. Jackson to undergo a deposition this week.

Mr. Jackson had previously resisted giving the deposition, and he might have been forced to choose between answering questions or refusing to respond based on his right not to incriminate himself -- a common legal maneuver but one that could have had grave public-relations implications for the entertainer.

Now, those immediate problems have been lifted, and he will avoid the spectacle of a nationally televised civil trial probing the most intimate aspects of his personal life.

But the civil case was only a part of Mr. Jackson's legal woes, and the longer-term question that the end of the lawsuit raises is whether Mr. Jackson might still be prosecuted criminally.

The answer there is more complicated. One prosecutor said yesterday, but most legal experts agree, that it now appears unlikely that Mr. Jackson will be indicted -- at least for any alleged abuse of this boy.

Mr. Feldman, who waged an aggressive legal effort on behalf of the boy, would not say yesterday whether his client would testify if prosecutors sought to file criminal charges against Mr. Jackson. He stressed that the civil settlement in no way committed his client to remaining silent, but at the same time Mr. Feldman repeatedly suggested that the boy might be better off getting on with his life.

"He cannot heal, he cannot get better until he puts this matter behind him," said Mr. Feldman, whose client has met with a number of psychologists in recent months. "He wants to put this behind him."

In a statement released by his office, Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti said the criminal investigation will go forward.

"The criminal investigation of singer Michael Jackson is ongoing and will not be affected by the announcement of the civil case ZTC settlement," Mr. Garcetti said. "The district attorney's office is taking Mr. Feldman at his word that the alleged victim will be allowed to testify and that there has been no agreement in the civil matter that will affect cooperation in the criminal investigation."

Santa Barbara County prosecutors, who also are weighing the possibility of criminal charges against the entertainer, declined to comment on yesterday's developments.

Although the terms of the settlement were not made public, nothing in the document is likely to prevent the child from cooperating with authorities, lawyers said, because the law prevents anyone from conspiring to obstruct the work of police and prosecutors as they investigate a possible crime.

"There's no way that a civil settlement can somehow keep the prosecution from seeking information in a criminal investigation," said Peter Arenella, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Mr. Arenella and other legal analysts agreed that there is almost no chance that prosecutors could proceed without the boy. Under California law, children can and sometimes are forced to testify against their will, but the law does not allow authorities to punish alleged victims of sex crimes who decline to testify.

The end of the lawsuit brings down the curtain on a tumultuous chapter in the extraordinary life of Mr. Jackson, one of the world's richest and most recognizable entertainers. The allegations that he sexually molested the young boy -- he was 13 at the time of the alleged abuse, though he turned 14 earlier this month -- first surfaced in August, as Mr. Jackson was leaving on his "Dangerous" world tour.

At first, Mr. Jackson's advisers insisted that the allegations were leveled only because Mr. Jackson had rebuffed an attempt by the boy's father to extort $20 million from the singer. On Monday, however, Mr. Garcetti's office announced that prosecutors had declined to prosecute that case, and Mr. Jackson's lawyers agreed yesterday that Mr. Jackson "withdraws any previous allegation of extortion."

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