While still proclaiming their client’s innocence, attorneys for Michael Jackson announced they have reached an out-of-court settlement with the 14 -year-old boy who claimed he was sexually molested by the entertainer.
“He’s an innocent man who does not intend to have his career and his life destroyed by rumors and innuendo,” said Johnnie Cochran Jr., one of Jackson’s attorneys.
While experts debated how the settlement would affect the ongoing criminal probe by Santa Barbara County Sheriffs and Los Angeles Police Dept. investigators, entertainment industry insidersquestioned the impact it would have on Jackson’s career.
While many of Jackson’s fans may doubt the boy’s allegations, and the artist’s album sales are seemingly unaffected bythe lawsuit, sponsors may be less likely to chalk up the settlement to a tactic by his attorneys.
“It’s hush money,” said Steve Gelfand, a litigation attorney in the entertainment industry. “The last thing Jackson wants is the specific acts detailed by the boy in a public record, as it would be if the criminal aspect went to trial. This way, the boy is happy and the investigation has been for all intents and purposes thwarted.”
But Jackson may have trouble getting sponsors, or linking up with advertisers , industry insiders concur.
Pepsi ended its sponsorship of Jackson’s “Dangerous” world tour after it was canceled abruptly when the singer sought treatment for an addiction to prescription medication.
At the time, Pepsi’s “there’s no tour to sponsor” spin appeared to most industry observers as a way for the company to distance itself from the embattled singer. But firms may still keep their distance.
“He’s damaged goods. I think advertisers, who historically have evidenced a lack of backbone at even the slightest hint of trouble, will be extremely reluctant to sign on with him,” said a veteran tour sponsorship broker.
“There may be a company out there willing to take a gamble — after all, if he can make someone some money, they’ll use him,” the broker said. “Large-scale, mainstream companies are probably out of the picture. But look at Ozzy (Osbourne) or the Stones or Judas Priest. They’ve all had some major problems and they’re still viable moneymakers. It’s not the days of Fatty Arbuckle, it’s the music business. People in it are supposed to be weird.”
Jackson is preparing to address the settlement in the near future, and Cochran said the entertainer would speak out about the settlement “at the appropriate time.” He added the resolution of the lawsuit would allow Jackson to “move on to new business, to start the healing process and to move his career forward to even greater heights.”
Although no terms of the settlement were announced, sources say the boy will receive “in the range” of $ 20 million. The boy would receive an initial cash payout of around $ 5 million, the balance being placed into a trust fund, according to the sources.
The boy’s attorney, Larry Feldman, said he was pleased that the case was resolved but denied that the settlement was designed to silence his client.
“Plaintiff has agreed the lawsuit should be resolved,” Feldman said, adding that the stress of the civil lawsuit is what prompted the early settlement. “Nobody has bought anyone’s silence.”
“When you feel the trauma in a normal person’s life, then add to it a sexual thing and then add to it Michael Jackson, that causes an enormous amount of stress,” Feldman said. “I’m very happy with what we’ve done.” The attorney also said the boy was “very happy with the resolution of this matter.”
Feldman, Cochran and Howard Weitzman met briefly in the chambers of Santa Monica Superior Court Judge David Rothman before making the settlement announcement to reporters outside the courthouse.
Ironically, Jackson’s handlers claimed six months ago the boy’s allegations stemmed from a failed extortion attempt orchestrated by the boy’s father. But on Monday, prosecutors announced a criminal investigation into the extortion claims was complete and no charges would be filed. The Jackson camp said a $ 20 million payment was demanded.