- Because of double jeopardy, anyone accused of a crime will never have to defend themselves for the same allegation twice unless one trial takes place in civil court and the other in criminal court. This was the situation with Michael Jackson in 1993.
- On September 14 1993, less than a month after the child abuse allegations against Michael Jackson had been reported to the police, the accusing family filed a $30 million lawsuit against Jackson with the help of civil attorney Larry Feldman.
- Up until that point, the alleged victim's mother June Schwartz had maintained that Jackson was innocent of the allegations. As soon as the civil suit was filed, however, she changed her tune and joined forces with her ex-husband Evan Chandler and their son Jordan. At that point, June Schwartz's divorce attorney Michael Freeman resigned. "The whole thing was such a mess," he explained. "I felt uncomfortable with Evan. He isn't a genuine person, and I sensed he wasn't playing things straight."
- The Chandlers sued Jackson for sexual battery, battery, seduction, willful misconduct, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud and negligence.
- The civil suit was filed while the police investigation was still ongoing. As a result, the civil trial was scheduled to take place before the criminal trial began which would have been a violation of Jackson's constitutional right to not self-incriminate. Typically, when there are two trials dealing with the same allegation, the criminal trial takes place before the civil trial (i.e- the O.J Simpson case). This is to ensure that the Defendant's defense in the criminal case will not be compromised as a result of the civil proceedings.
- Jackson's attorneys filed a motion asking for the civil trial to be delayed until after the criminal trial was over. They cited numerous cases such as Pacer, Inc. v. Superior Court to support their request. The Federal case held that, "when both criminal and civil proceedings arise out of the same or related transactions, the Defendant is entitled to a Stay of Discovery and trial in the civil action until the criminal matter has been fully resolved." Other cases cited include Dustin W. Brown v. The Superior Court, Dwyer v. Crocker National Bank, Patterson v. White and Huot v. Gendron.
- Larry Feldman argued that if the civil trial were to be postponed, the plaintiff, being a minor, might forget certain details about what had supposedly happened to him. The judge felt that the boy's "fragile state" was more important than Jackson's 5th Amendment rights and ruled in the boy's favour.
- Jackson's attorneys filed another motion asking that District Attorney Tom Sneddon be blocked from obtaining evidence used in the civil trial. Again, the Jackson team lost the motion. The DA made it clear that he was planning to use the evidence from the civil proceedings to assist him in his criminal case against Jackson.
- If Jackson had not settled the civil lawsuit, he would have put his entire defense strategy in jeopardy by revealing it to the prosecution months before the criminal case went to trial.
- Let's pretend for a moment that Michael Jackson had gone through with the civil trial. What would have happened? He would have presented the court with all of his evidence of extortion and Sneddon would have been watching the entire thing unfold. He could have then taken Jackson's most critical exonerating evidence from the civil trial and found ways to discredit it so that Jackson would have nothing left to defend himself with in the criminal trial.
- During the civil trial, Jackson’s lawyers would have undoubtedly revealed any inconsistencies in the accuser’s story. This would have given Sneddon the opportunity to examine and amend the weaknesses in his own case against Jackson.
- As you can see, allowing the civil trial to proceed would have given the prosecution the upper hand in the far more important criminal trial. Although this is the primary reason behind Michael Jackson's decision to settle the case, there were many other factors involved:
1) In a criminal trial, the burden of proof lies with the affirmative; in other words, it is up to the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty of a crime. In civil trials, if the jury thinks the Defendant might be responsible for what he or she is accused of, they can still hold the Defendant liable.
2) In criminal law, if the Defendant chooses not to testify, their refusal cannot be used against them. In a civil trial, however, the Defendant must be cooperative for all depositions and testimony. If the Defendant in a civil trial invokes his or her Fifth Amendment privilege, the judge will tell the jury that they may make an inference against the party who refused to testify. If Michael Jackson had not settled the civil lawsuit, his entire personal life would have been put on display. Defendants in sex abuse crimes are often asked extremely personal questions on the stand; imagine what this process would be like for somebody like Michael Jackson who is admittedly shy and whose personal life is always subject to severe media scrutiny.
3) In civil trials the jury's verdict does not have to be unanimous. If at least 50% of the jurors find the Defendant liable, the Plaintiff will still get money.
4) The Defendant in a civil trial has fewer rights. In criminal law, police must obtain search warrants before searching or seizing items from a person's property. In civil law, a lawyer may demand information from the defense about any matter relevant to the case. This is known as the discovery process and it does not usually involve the court. Discovery may include: written questions to be answered under oath; oral deposition under oath; requests for pertinent documents; physical or mental examinations where injury is claimed; and requests to admit facts not in dispute. If Jackson had allowed the civil trial to proceed, Larry Feldman would have had access to Jackson's medical and financial records without obtaining a warrant.
5) The civil trial would have taken months to resolve. Michael Jackson would have been paying millions of dollars in legal fees while at the same time limiting his source of income by putting his career on hold. There was probably also a lot of pressure from his record company to settle the lawsuit because the case was affecting his career.
6) Such a long, drawn out process would have caused Michael Jackson and his family immeasurable amounts of stress. Even after the civil trial was resolved, he would still have the criminal proceedings to contend with. Why go through all of that twice?
7) According to Jackson family attorney Brian Oxman, the negligence allegation included in the lawsuit might have prompted Jackson's insurance company to force him to settle the case. "I have brought child molestation cases against Defendants and I always include a negligence allegation," Oxman explained. "That means that the homeowners' insurance policy takes over and a homeowners' insurance policy can settle right out from under the Defendant. The Defendant can scream, 'I will not settle that case,' and they have no choice because the insurance company settles it."
For the above reasons, Michael Jackson reluctantly settled the civil lawsuit that had been filed against him.