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Jackson Denies Breach of Contract in Lawsuit

Singer testifies concerts were canceled by promoter, who is seeking $21.2 million.

November 14, 2002|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA MARIA — With 200 screaming fans outside, king of pop Michael Jackson took the witness stand Wednesday in a $21.2-million breach-of-contract suit accusing him of failing to show up for two 1999 New Year's Eve concerts marking the millennium.

The action -- being tried in this northwest Santa Barbara County town because Jackson's Neverland estate is nearby in the Santa Inez Valley -- was filed by Marcel Avram, a 64-year-old German concert promoter.

Avram contends that he was stuck with an $11-million debt and about $10 million in potential lost revenues when Jackson did not appear at concerts in Honolulu and Sydney, Australia. Avram had testified Tuesday that it was Jackson who had broken the agreement.

Avram said on the stand that he had been a Jackson family associate since the days of the Jackson Five, "when Michael was a little boy."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 20, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 12 inches; 448 words Type of Material: Correction
Neverland location -- The Santa Ynez Valley was misspelled in two stories that referred to the location of Michael Jackson's Neverland estate. A Thursday California section story and a Saturday Calendar story incorrectly called it the Santa Inez Valley.

Avram said he became involved with Jackson again after he was asked to work out difficulties that had arisen with production of a charity concert Jackson was planning for Seoul.

In exchange for his help, he said, he persuaded Jackson to do a second charity concert in Germany and two millennium spectaculars scheduled for Dec. 31, 1999. For all that, Jackson would be paid $15 million. Although the charity concerts were performed, they lost money.

In early October 1999, Avram said, he met in New York with two Jackson aides, and was told Jackson would not appear at the millennium concerts because he was too busy making a record album.

Jackson disputed that when he appeared Wednesday.

Called as a hostile witness by Avram's lawyer, Louis "Skip" Miller, Jackson said it was the promoter who telephoned him to say the concerts were off, although he could not recall the date.

"I don't think he was prepared," Jackson said at one point. "He canceled it. I specifically remember the telephone call. He said, 'We're not going to do those shows on the millennium. It couldn't work to fly from one time zone to another.'

"I remember using the phone in my bathroom where it was very quiet," Jackson added. "I remember feeling a little upset because I was looking forward to doing the show. I was excited because I thought it would make the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest watched show in history."

Referring to Jackson's June and October depositions, Miller questioned Jackson's testimony: "This telephone call never took place, did it?"

"Yes it did," Jackson answered. "Sir, it's not unusual for somebody's recollection to change."

Jackson's lawyer, Zia Modabber, contends that it was Avram who backed out of the millennium concerts.

Jackson is scheduled to resume his testimony today.

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