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Judge Sides With Michael Jackson Estate in ‘Leaving Neverland’ Dispute

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A federal judge tends to allow the Michael Jackson estate to take HBO to arbitration in its dispute over the documentary “Leaving Neverland”.

Judge George Wu issued a preliminary decision on Thursday rejecting HBO’s motion to dismiss the estate’s case. Wu is expected to reach a final verdict by the end of September.

The four-hour documentary contains allegations about two men, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who say they were sexually abused by Jackson over several years when they were small children. The Jackson estate argues that HBO’s conduct of the documentary violated an agreement in a 1992 concert film from Jackson’s “Dangerous” tour.

The property blasted HBO for not recording its refutation of the claims in the film and went to court to force a public arbitration of the contract dispute. HBO has said that the 26-year-old contract no longer applies.

HBO’s lawyers, led by Theodore Boutrous, had tried to dismiss the case under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which rejects frivolous litigation designed to cool the speech on issues of public interest.

Wu had previously suggested that HBO should file the anti-SLAPP motion, but in his preliminary ruling, he concluded that the law did not apply to arbitration requests.

In court on Thursday, Boutrous asked the judge to reconsider.

“It was filed to calm the speech,” he argued. “It was filed to tell the world: “Do not talk about child abuse”… A company like HBO could be able to strike back and move forward. Others may not be able to do that.”

Wu admitted that the legal issues, in this case, are close and that his decision is likely to be challenged.

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“You’re a big company, you’re a wealthy estate,” he told HBO’s lawyers. “It’s a titanic battle.”

HBO’s lawyers, led by Theodore Boutrous, had tried to dismiss the case under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which rejects frivolous litigation aimed at cooling the speech on issues of public interest.

Wu had previously suggested that HBO should file the anti-SLAPP motion, but in his preliminary ruling, he concluded that the law did not apply to arbitration requests.

In court on Thursday, Boutrous asked the judge to reconsider.

“It was filed to calm the speech,” he argued. “It was submitted to tell the world: “Do not talk about child abuse”…….. A company like HBO might be able to strike back and move forward. Others may not be able to do that.”

Wu admitted that the legal issues are close in this case and that his decision is likely to be challenged.

“You’re a big business, you’re a wealthy estate,” he told HBO’s lawyers. “It’s a titanic struggle.”

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