Michael Jackson pays a hefty settlement to his boy accuser. But what does it settle?

Below is a TIME Magazine article from February 1994, just after Michael Jackson paid the Chandlers a substantial settlement. It’s an interesting read, which reflects the reality that the settlement was a payoff to dismiss the civil suit and coerce Jordan Chandler into not testifying rather than what the fans have subsequently twisted it into based on supposition and flimsy evidence.

By Richard Corliss

Larry Feldman (talking into microphone) and Johnnie Cochran (in brown jacket) at the press conference announcing the settlement.
Larry Feldman (talking into microphone) and Johnnie Cochran (in brown jacket) at the press conference announcing the settlement.

THE OTHER GLOVE FINALLY dropped. Last week representatives of Michael Jackson and the 14- year- old boy who accused him of sexual molestation agreed to settle the boy’s civil suit. No promises were put in writing– and no judge would tolerate such promises– but it was understood that the boy will not testify* in pending criminal investigations of Jackson being pursued by the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara district attorneys. Meanwhile, the star gets to maintain his innocence. The price tag was estimated between $15 million and $50 million — part paid in cash, part to be fed into a trust fund for the boy.

Afterward, the two parties sounded as if they were the same side. Both professed to be pleased with the resolution; both blamed the media for snooping; both underlined that Jackson proclaims himself blameless**; both implied that they settled to protect their sensitive clients. ” A child can’t heal until this is behind him,” declared the boy’s attorney, Larry Feldman, and the same could apply to the childlike Jackson. ” Michael wants to get on with his life,” said his lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, ” and let the healing process begin.”

For Michael that may take a while. His bodyguards, for example, are pressing their own suit against him, and court cases await over the cancellation of his tour. And Los Angeles D. A. Gil Garcetti insisted that his office has not closed the Jackson file. But California law does not allow the state to compel testimony from juveniles in sex crime cases. Without the boy’s evidence, the authorities may have only hearsay testimony — probably not enough to win or even bring a case against Jackson. So for now his freedom is assured, if not his reputation. Neither he nor the boy will be required to relate bedtime intimacies under oath.

The agreement capped five months of tawdry wrangling in what now seems like the all-tabloid media. Maids and chauffeurs, lissome lads and their parents fed their accusations of misconduct or declarations of support to the avid press. Tracking the story was a full-time job for many newshounds — 250 littered the lawn of the Superior Court building in Santa Monica last week to hear the announcement of the epochal compromise–and for the two squads of lawyers. The main attorneys got high marks for their work. ” Feldman publicized, publicized, publicized, and then got the big settlement,” says New York City attorney Raoul Felder. “Cochran and Howard Weitzman did a good job by hobbling the criminal case.”

Last August, at the beginning of the case, both sides were in disarray. The boy’s first attorney, Gloria Allred, famous for trying cases in the media, didn’t last long. For a while, Jackson’s improbable front man was private detective Anthony Pellicano. As for Jackson’s lawyers, one of them never met his client; the other spent only 30 minutes with him in Moscow and promptly departed for the South of France. They did not even know if Garcetti was issuing an arrest warrant for Jackson. The savviest legal and personal adviser was actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose own lawyer told her, ” Cochran is the only man for the job.” Cochran signed on in early December and persuaded Jackson to return to the U. S. and take an active role in his defense. ” For months,” Cochran told TIME, ” Hard Copy and the tabloids had been beating up Michael. I wanted to bring him back here, at the center of what was happening. Michael always has and always will be the most effective advocate for the fact of his innocence.” But after a month of drug therapy, Jackson was off on the fringe. So blithe was he about the charges that, when he arrived home from London, he was accompanied by two young boys from New Jersey***. One friend of Jackson’s told him to ” get those boys out of here right away!”

Garcetti had issued no arrest warrant for Jackson. But he had obtained a warrant for a humiliating full-body exam and photo session. The Santa Barbara D.A. obtained a similar warrant, with this threat: “Michael Jackson shall be advised that he has no right to refuse the examination and photographs, and any refusal to comply with this warrant would be admissible at trial and would be an indication of his consciousness of guilt.” The Santa Barbara D.A. also wanted several police to be present when Jackson was photographed, and for a ruler to be used to measure any splotches of vitiligo, a pigment disorder, that might be found on his penis. But Jackson’s team managed to deflect those medieval demands.

Court-appointed psychiatrists had already reported that the boy would be harmed by testifying, but Feldman kept insisting he would bring the case to court. He also filed for the singer’s financial records, almost certainly so that he could attach to them — for all the media to see — a transcript of the boy’s deposition, which contained a gruesome list of Jackson’s alleged pedophiliac predations. “The media ran with it,” says Malcolm Boyes, producer of the tabloid TV show Inside Edition, “and it helped Feldman push the settlement.”

By early January, a source close to Jackson’s defense says, ” the case had become a nightmare. The D. A. s were building their case on the discovery in the civil case. It was part of their strategy to wait and see what happened in there before they took their shot at us.” The civil case had to be resolved quickly so that at the very least, the criminal proceedings would not benefit from it. From Jackson’s viewpoint, a multi-million- dollar payoff was an easier option than the humiliation of testifying– and the possibility of jail time.

Time: that was the ace up Feldman’s sleeve. He knew Jackson was slated to make a deposition in the civil suit on Jan. 18. The star’s lawyers faced three unsavory options: let Michael talk and possibly strengthen the prosecution’s case against him; have him take the Fifth Amendment and a severe public relations hit; or pay the king’s ransom. All Feldman had to do was let the clock tick and the meter run up. Sure enough, Jackson’s team got the deposition postponed for a week, by which time negotiations for a settlement were well advanced. Now that the deal has been approved, he won’t have to testify at all. “Jackson settled, Feldman believes, because “his business people made a judgment call.” What he surely means is, Better to be judged guilty in the court of public opinion than in a court of law.”

Now Feldman and his client are a wealthy man and boy. The attorney’s contingency fee could be in the $5 million to $15 million range****, and he would be worth it, considering that according to Pellicano, $20 million was the amount demanded by the boy’s father last year. The trust will ensure that not all the millions end up in the parents’ pockets. But how much will the megarich star be left with? Reportedly, Cochran has asked TIG Insurance, the Transamerica subsidiary that holds Jackson’s personal-liability policy, to cover the settlement*****.

Perhaps Jackson, who has been accused of impropriety by no other boy in these five months of glaring publicity, can revive his charisma and career. “Michael’s state of mind is good,” Cochran says. “He’ll be back in the recording studio soon.” He will also participate in NBC’s The Jackson Family Honors show on Feb. 21 — an event that could lure more rubberneckers than a Tonya Harding free skate in the Olympics.

Jackson has always seemed emotionally bewildered, adrift in a toy boat on a roiling sea outside Neverland. His accuser wins sympathy, but he earns pity. If he never goes to jail, he still seems condemned to solitary confinement in his own bizarre Eden.

— Reported by Martha Smilgis and Jack E. White/ Los Angeles


*True. Jordan never testified. Jackson and the Chandlers must have come to some kind of secret, or even unspoken, agreement that he wouldn’t testify. This is highly likely, as Jackson wasn’t going to settle for millions without some sort of guarantee that he wouldn’t be going to jail. back to story

**The confidential settlement agreement, released in 2005, showed otherwise. Jackson was still “on the hook” for molestation until the settlement amount was paid in full. back to story

***Not only that, but the very first night Jackson returned to the US he called up to have Wade Robson delivered to his bed at 1.30am. back to story

****If payments were made according to a retainer agreement the Chandlers signed with Larry Feldman, the sum would have been around $3 million. back to story

*****It has always been unlikely that Jackson’s insurance company ever paid or contributed to the settlement (see our story here – Was Michael Jackson Forced to Settle by an Insurance Company?). Luckily, due to a well placed question by a supercilious MJ fan, Tom Mesereau has confirmed that an insurance company did not pay. back to story