SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Reclusive pop star Michael Jackson took the witness stand for more than three hours Wednesday, sparring verbally with a lawyer whose client is suing him for $21 million for allegedly backing out of two millennium concerts.
Jackson, who says he believed his longtime promoter, Marcel Avram, had canceled the concerts, drew a throng of about 100 cheering fans as he arrived at Santa Barbara County Superior Court. Some held signs reading "Free Michael."
The entertainer, who wore a surgical mask while entering and leaving the courtroom, waved and flashed the crowd a V for victory sign when he left for lunch. He departed in a black stretch SUV with an escort of five police motorcycle officers.
The singer routinely wears the mask to protect his throat from pollution and germs, said Lee Solters, his former publicist.
One of his fans caused a brief courtroom commotion when the flash on a camera he was carrying went off as Jackson testified. The youthful spectator was thrown out and his camera confiscated. Authorities said later the incident was an accident and the spectator, who was not identified, would not be disciplined.
In court, Jackson spoke softly, often replying "yes" or "no" to questions and asking several times that they be repeated. He paused frequently when asked about his business relationship with Avram, who is suing him.
Avram's attorney, Louis Miller, sought to point out discrepancies in Jackson's testimony with what he said the entertainer told him during a deposition he gave last June.
At one point he asked Jackson about a phone call he said he received from Avram canceling the two concerts. Avram maintains the call never took place.
"I remember being in the bathroom, it was a private call," Jackson said when Miller asked where he took the call.
The attorney then pointed out that when he asked Jackson in June where he had taken the call he told him he wasn't sure.
"Isn't it a fact that you don't know if you were even in the United States when you took this call?" Miller asked.
"That's wrong," Jackson replied.
Jackson, who spent three hours on the witness stand Wednesday afternoon after about 10 minutes in the morning, was expected to return for more questioning Thursday. He owns the Neverland Ranch in nearby Los Olivos.
About 30 spectators who won a lottery for seats were allowed in the courtroom to witness his testimony.
During opening statements on Tuesday, Miller said Avram 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. 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 hotel in New York City in October 1999.
Modabber said the German-based promoter, 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.