Michael Jackson’s latest legal drama ended Friday with Santa Monica jurors holding their noses as they awarded the singer’s former business partner $900,000 while ordering the producer to pay the pop star $200,000.
At the conclusion of a trial peppered with accounts of international skulduggery, lavish spending and lurid pasts, jurors said they overlooked unappealing qualities of both parties to rule on the merits of the various financial claims.
“From the very beginning” of deliberations, jurors “were saying, ‘He’s a sleazeball,’ ” said Cathleen Yancy. Asked which party she was describing, Yancy answered: “Both.”
F. Marc Schaffel, who worked for Jackson on television specials and a charity record that was never released, sued Jackson for unpaid fees and loans; in closing arguments, his lawyer asked for $1.4 million. Jackson’s lawyers said Schaffel actually owed Jackson about $1 million.
Asked if the decision to award both parties money showed Jackson and Schaffel were credible, jury foreman Roy Shimogaki, a Marina del Rey engineer, said: “I wouldn’t go that far.” Standing next to Shimogaki outside the courtroom, juror Irma Beard, a retired law firm receptionist from Palms, explained: “The plaintiff was not the most upstanding character, but neither was the defendant.”
During the trial, Jackson’s lawyers said Schaffel had been a pornographic film producer. Yancy, a Brigham Young University nursing student from Tarzana, said she did not hold Schaffel’s background against him because she also had a dim view of Jackson.
“I have issues with adult entertainment, but I also have issues with child molestation,” she said, referring to Jackson’s 2005 trial on sexual abuse charges, which ended in acquittal. Yancy said she believed he was guilty.
The two-week trial detailed Jackson’s casual handling of large financial transactions and Schaffel’s equally irregular business practices. Jackson, for instance, borrowed $2 million at 4% monthly interest to finance a charity record deal with Schaffel.
Schaffel said he traveled to Argentina to make a $300,000 payment to a man he identified only as “Mr. X.” Schaffel, who said the $300,000 was his money and he was not repaid, admitted that he did not have a receipt for the payment. Jackson’s attorneys denied the transaction took place. Schaffel’s lawyer, Howard E. King, asked jurors rhetorically, “Why did Michael Jackson not ask what the money was for?”
“They don’t want you to know, don’t want me to know and they don’t want these people to know,” King said, gesturing to the reporters covering the trial.
Jurors said they all believed Schaffel made the mysterious payment, although they didn’t know what it was for. “Something unpleasant was involved,” said a Calabasas juror who refused to give his name.
Schaffel said Jackson owed him money for fees and expenses for work on television specials for the Fox Network to rebut a BBC documentary in which Jackson disclosed that he slept platonically with children. The charity recording was to benefit victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Schaffel’s lawyers suggested Jackson feigned ignorance of financial matters but actually was an astute, hands-on business partner. In his closing arguments, King showed video clips of Jackson repeatedly telling lawyers he could not remember details of his deals, and contrasted the footage with a voice mail message Jackson left for Schaffel with detailed directions for a project.
Thomas C. Mundell, representing Jackson, called his client “a gentle, trusting artist who is lonely and insulated from the world.”
Mundell closed his arguments by reading jurors a transcript of a 2001 telephone message Jackson left for Schaffel. In the message, Jackson states his high hopes for a record project, and adds: “I really like you. I love you. Please, please, please never let me down. I have been betrayed so much by people. Please be my loyal, loyal, loyal friend.”
The jury’s awards could be adjusted when Judge Jacqueline A. Connor, who presided over the case, reviews the accounting in the matter. Mundell said accounting discrepancies could be great enough to negate Schaffel’s award. King said that “is never going to happen.”
Jackson did not appear during the trial; his testimony was presented through a videotaped deposition.
Without the star on hand, the trial was largely free of media swarms and other celebrity-induced distractions.
A glimmer of show business surfaced after the verdict, when a handful of jurors joined the courtroom staff and Connor to watch a video of the unreleased charity song, “What More Can I Give,” which had been the subject of the payment dispute.
The crowd listened raptly as the tune played on a laptop computer; Judge Connor, standing in her black robe, swayed and smiled slightly.
Yancy, moved little by Jackson’s case, was stirred by his song. “This is amazing. It definitely should be out,” she said.