Suit accuses Michael Jackson of Backing Out of Concerts

AP Wire Service

SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) – Pop star Michael Jackson took the witness stand Wednesday in a $21 million lawsuit by his longtime promoter that accuses him of backing out of two millennium concerts.

Jackson was called as a witness several minutes before the court broke for lunch. He testified briefly and was expected to continue when court reconvened this afternoon.

The entertainer arrived at the courthouse in a limousine and was greeted by a crowd of excited fans.

An attorney for German-based promoter Marcel Avram said during opening statements Tuesday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court that his client was left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses after Jackson dropped out of the performances, which were to take place on both sides of the international dateline.

The suit filed in 2000 claims that Jackson agreed to four shows, including two on Dec. 31, 1999, in Honolulu and Sydney, Australia.

Jackson performed at the first two concerts, the proceeds of which were for charity, but allegedly pulled out of the New Year’s Eve shows in October. The suit contends Jackson was paid a $1 million advance and had debts totaling $1.2 million covered.

Jackson’s attorney, Zia Modabber, told the eight-woman, four-man jury in his opening remarks that it was Avram who postponed the concerts when he met with Jackson’s representatives at the Walfdorf-Astoria in New York City in October 1999.

Modabber said Avram, who had agreed to pay Jackson $15 million, realized the shows would not be as profitable as he had hoped.

“He could not live up to the huge promises he made to Mr. Jackson,” Modabber said.

Avram’s attorney, Louis Miller, said the promoter had no motive to cancel the concerts. He had agreed to cover expenses for the two benefit shows with the understanding that he would recoup his costs from the New Year’s Eve concerts, Miller said.

Modabber countered that Avram lost money on the benefit concerts.

“He’s now looking at Mr. Jackson to bail him out,” he said.

Avram, 64, took the stand late Tuesday and was expected to continue his testimony Wednesday. Jackson was expected to take the stand later Wednesday.

Jackson owns the Neverland Ranch in nearby Los Olivos.

AP-WS-11-13-02 1529EST
Received Id 812998680 on Nov 13 2002 15:29