One year after the infamous police raid on Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, Calif., it seems that the singer might be in real jeopardy of losing his home.
That's right, a year ago today, Santa Barbara police and District Attorney Tom Sneddon tore through Jackson's sprawling estate to secure evidence in their child molestation case. The case goes to trial on Jan. 31, 2005.
But I told you yesterday that two days ago, Marc Schaffel, Jackson's former business partner, filed suit against him for $3 million, saying the singer owes him. I can tell you, he has lots of documentation to back up his claims.
Schaffel has so much documentation, in fact, that his Los Angeles lawyer, Howard King, who also represents rappers like Dr. Dre, has decided to make an unusual legal move. He is planning to file a writ of attachment against Jackson, using Neverland as his target next week. This would put a lien on the property. Jackson already owes Bank of America $12 million for the residence with attached theme park.
A writ of attachment is usually obtainable only if a judge can be persuaded that the plaintiff in the case has a reasonable expectation of winning. Schaffel is said to have kept copious records and can produce affidavits from various witnesses backing him up if necessary. A judge can grant a writ of attachment that would guarantee Schaffel at least some of Jackson's remaining assets, should he win.
It's a good idea: Winning a lawsuit against Jackson can often mean very little. I told you last week that Jackson assigned the winner of another lawsuit the rights to put out a CD soundtrack of a charity concert Jackson once performed in. The only problem was that he didn't own the rights, Sony Music did. Whoops!
A year after the police raid, Jackson still stands to lose everything, including his freedom. My sources indicate he still has no understanding of the situation, does not read news reports and depends on his brother Randy and attorney Brian Oxman for information.
Jackson seems unaware that Oxman, who was sanctioned already by Judge Rodney Melville during a pretrial hearing, is also pushing the envelope by trying to contact witnesses without their attorneys. More importantly, Jackson's criminal defense attorney, Tom Mesereau, still has no detailed timeline in the case for February and March 2003.
As for Jackson himself, he continues to live in financial jeopardy. His greatest hits box set, The Ultimate Collection, is ranked below No. 400 on Amazon.com and has shown little sign of picking up since its release on Tuesday. Luckily, The Beatles' box set, Capitol Albums Vol. 1, is ranked at No. 8. Jackson, you may recall, owns the publishing on most of those songs. He's used his 50 percent ownership of them, as we all know by now, for collateral against the $350 million debt to Bank of America.
Jerry Seinfeld, his beautiful wife Jessica (wearing dazzling diamond earrings), actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards all turned up last night at the Rainbow Room to launch the DVD releases of the first three seasons of "Seinfeld." Jason Alexander didn't make it; he's stuck in L.A. filming his CBS sitcom, "Listen Up."
But some famous guests from old "Seinfeld" episodes put in appearances, including Jerry Stiller, who played George's father, with wife Anne Meara, Regis with his own beautiful wife Joy and ex-Met Keith Hernandez, who flew up from Jupiter, Fla. with his new bride, Kai Thompson, for the occasion. There was no sign of the usually ubiquitous Kenny Kramer, upon whom Richards' character was based, or co-creator Larry David, who's busy working on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in Hollywood.
The room crawled, however, with execs from Sony Home Video, NBC, Castle Rock and all the production companies that have shared in the enormous wealth generated by the series about nothing. They chowed down on a really sumptuous series of buffets, using custom-printed "Seinfeld" napkins emblazoned with the phrase "yada yada."
This prompted Seinfeld to say of GE chairman Bob Wright, "It's great to see him and say: 'You don't bother me now. That's why we quit the show.'"
Seinfeld graciously thanked his fellow castmates for making the show a hit.
"When people ask me what I remember, it's just the four of us hanging around on that couch on the set," he said.
But Seinfeld's manager and the executive producer of the show, George Shapiro, told me another story: In 1998, before it was decided Seinfeld would go off the air, Wright offered Jerry $5 million per episode to come back for another year. Shapiro's partner Howard West wanted to take the money, but Shapiro — who describes himself as the artistic side of the duo — refused it.
"We turned down $110 million," he said. "Jerry wanted to go out on top. And I don't think we would have had this response to the show that we have now if it had gone on. It was time."
The offer, Shapiro recalled, was made in Bob Wright's Trump Tower living room.
"We were all there, me, Howard, Jerry, Bob, Jack Welch. They couldn't believe it," he said.
Shapiro wouldn't comment when I asked him about a big multi-year, multi-multi-million dollar contract he and West recently negotiated for Jeff Zucker to keep running NBC entertainment.
The Seinfeld DVDs, when they hit stores next Tuesday, will retail for about $30 apiece. Seasons 1 and 2 fit on one disc, Season 3 on another. Bob Wright pointed out that Season 1 only had one episode, FYI.
It's pretty clear that Seinfeld and the cast are serious about making them bestsellers, and pre-orders indicate they already are. The whole gang taped "Oprah" in Chicago yesterday before flying into New York for the party.
"I almost cried when I met her," Jessica Seinfeld said.
She also told me we will see her on the show along with her husband when it airs next week.
"There's one particular show she did that affected me very much," Jessica said, "But I can't tell you about it. I'll start crying again. I told Oprah after the show was over."
For a while I talked to Jerry, Louis-Dreyfus and writer Peter Mehlman, the man who combined "yada yada" and "anti-dentite" with "turning Jewish for the jokes" in one memorable episode. Mehlman also wrote, among others, George's famous "shrinkage" episode.
"Larry David told me to write about George getting out of the pool and having shrinkage," Mehlman said. "I said: 'Shrinkage? Like you mean what I think you mean?' Larry said, ‘Yes. And use the word shrinkage a lot.' It was his genius."
Louis-Dreyfus said, "You hear people saying ‘yada yada' now and they don't even realize where it came from. It's just become a catch phrase."
"We had no idea it would take off like it did. We didn't know they'd become catch phrases," Jerry chimed in.
"It wasn't until after the show went off the air that I realized how big it was," Louis-Dreyfus said.
The Emmy-winning comedienne will start a new movie, a satire about shopping channels called "Sellavision," during the winter. She's also hoping to cook up another idea for a series after seeing her last one, "Watching Ellie," sputtered out at NBC.
"It's all about having the writers," Richards said, commenting on his own failed NBC series about a detective. "We didn't have the material. They hadn't worked on a good supporting cast of characters and they ran out of material fast. After six episodes I told NBC, ‘That's it.'"
Richards is working on a sort of personal documentary for Australian TV. He also has a surprise for a current hit show, but he swore me to secrecy. If it works out, I'll let you know.
But don't fret for the "Seinfeld" principals. They made a bundle on the show and stand to make more from syndication and DVD sales. Even if the show dogs them for the rest of their lives, they're all set. And the new DVDs should be popular stocking stuffers, and Hanukkah favorites as well. They contain lots of extras, outtakes, commentary tracks and interviews, with lots of never-seen-before material.
Tomorrow, I promise, word of Geoffrey Rush's phenomenal performance as the late Peter Sellers in an HBO movie about the British actor. If "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" had been released to theaters, Rush would be an Oscar nominee this year. And a first look at Mike Nichols' searing film version of the play "Closer," with Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Jude Law.