Michael Jackson is running an annual deficit of about $30 million a year. Not only that: his ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, and her former attorney, Iris Finsilver, have been accused by Jackson’s attorneys of working “undercover” with the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office during their prosecution of Jackson on child molestation charges.
Those are just two of the revelations in a stack of papers finally made publicly available in the ongoing child custody case between Rowe and Jackson, who were married for three years and had two children, Prince and Paris.
The papers go on and on, stacks of them, and show a long and contentious battle that started soon after Rowe and Jackson were divorced in 2000.
The papers had been sealed when the former couple was using a private judge to help them through their case. But Judge Stephen Lachs was forced to recuse himself from the case last December when Jackson’s attorney accused him of being biased against Jackson. That seems like it was a major tactical error as it helped push the case into a public forum.
Much of the proceedings have been dry, but some of them prove pretty wild. Unknown until now, for example: a July 2005 settlement negotiation between Jackson and Rowe almost netted Rowe $4 million in exchange for seeing her kids once a year and giving up most other rights.
She was ready to sign the papers, until Jackson’s lawyers sneaked in a provision by which she would lose her parental rights for good. The plan fell apart, and Rowe subsequently had all her rights restored by an appeals judge.
The settlement offer, however, produced a letter from Jackson’s attorney, Thomas Montague Hall, that makes for alarming reading. On July 20, 2005, he wrote to Finsilver: “Penal Code 273 makes it a serious crime to take money in exchange for giving up a child. We need to be very careful to make sure that no one can say Debbie gave up the children in exchange for money. Debbie certainly doesn’t want any criminal exposure and I’m sure she does not want to create any risks for Michael. She certainly knows that are people who would love to try and prosecute him for any such action. So we have to avoid giving them the chance.”
Hall continues: “My suggestion is that we put language into the stipulation which clarifies what the money to Debbie is for. My suggestion is that we include some recital about Debbie incurring emotional distress, loss of privacy, and actual legal expense as a result of being dragged unwillingly into the [child molestation] case…Such recitals could separate the money from the children.”
Rowe, according to the papers, has already received approximately $11 million from Jackson as well as a house in Beverly Hills that she subsequently sold.
Jackson — claiming that his ex violated their original confidentiality agreement — cut off her spousal payments in October 2003 after Rowe gave a TV interview about her horse-raising business. The unpaid money, roughly $1.6 million, sits in an escrow account until the case is resolved.
In the end, though, it’s unclear where Jackson would have gotten $4 million for Rowe in July 2005. Nearly a year later, in May 2006, his accountant gave a secret affidavit in the custody case claiming that his client’s finances were in shambles and put Jackson in the red to the tune of $2.3 million a month. The conclusion offered was that even Jackson’s recent refinancing hadn’t helped the situation.
But the voluminous papers are even more revelatory. For one thing, it was only said that Judge Lachs had been hired in 2003 by Jackson and Rowe to deal with their issues. In fact, he’d been on the job since 2000, trying to sort out the miserable state of their affairs.
The papers also show a continued level of high-pitched enmity between Finsilver — whom Rowe dismissed earlier this year — and Jackson’s attorneys Hall and Michael Abrams.
Their letters are filled with accusations, bile and of lots of capital letters and underlining, indicating personal squabbles and petty vendettas on both sides that would make even the most contentious divorce adversaries blush.
Hall, for example, accuses Finsilver of listening in on phone conversations between Jackson and Rowe, and then counseling Jackson without his attorney’s knowledge. Finsilver responds that Hall has done everything he can to undo settlement negotiations and was not informing Jackson of the status of his case.
But one of the glaring errors of the case was the ouster of Lachs, who no doubt was thrilled to see an exit sign after five years of bickering.
In all that time, for example, he’d never even seen Jackson in court. The singer had managed to avoid the entire proceedings. In April 2005, Lachs told the parties: “It is though we are treated in this case as though he [Jackson] doesn’t exist.”
More to come on Monday …
Clive Davis can’t get enough Marios over at J Records. When he started the label four years ago, he signed a 15-year-old Mario who’s become an engaging hip-hop crooner with a lot of potential and panache. He’s also had a couple of hits like “Let Me Love You.”
But last year, Mario Vazquez entered the picture. He dropped out of “American Idol” before it was over rather than deal with the show’s management contracts. At that point he looked like the slam-dunk winner of the season. People were shocked. Why cut out then?
Whether it was for contractual or personal reasons no longer matters. On Tuesday, Davis releases Mario Vazquez’s self-titled debut on J Records. The singer now shares a manager with Rod Stewart, Mr. Arnold Stiefel, and he doesn’t take on new clients unless he’s serious about their futures.
Davis and Stiefel needn’t worry about Mario II. The album is slick, but it’s also chockablock full of hits, and Vazquez can sing, sing, sing, of that there is no doubt.
“Gallery” had already been out on radio as a lead single, but there’s much better stuff if you give this CD a chance. “I Bet” and “One Shot” are obvious choices for radio now, and time will tell which of the other dozen tracks catch on. My guess is several of them will be filling the air.
Choosing Vazquez as a J Records artist makes sense. He fills a void left by Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, who’s going over to Def Jam with his buddy L.A. Reid.
Mario sounds like a younger version of Babyface from his early days, a kind of new jack throwback. As he gets older, Vazquez could be giving even Anthony Hamilton some trouble.
So look for a big push on Mario Vazquez this fall. He makes a welcome debut. And he didn’t have to suffer Simon and Paula to get there.
It’s 34 years old, but Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” remains the gold standard of the modern film era, according to writer-director Paul Schrader in the current issue of Film Comment magazine.
Schrader writes a fascinating, scholarly and insightful study of the modern film canon and ruminates on a book on great films he was contracted for but never did complete.
Since everyone loves a good list, Schrader provides one. But his only entry of the modern American film era is “The Godfather” — and that’s at No. 16. (Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love” is next).
The top 5: Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game;” Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story;” Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights;” Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”
"Citizen Kane" is No. 6, and the balance of the top 20 includes Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Preston Sturges, Bertolucci, Fellini and Antonioni.
Do I have personal quibbles with Schrader’s list? Sure. He misses Robert Altman entirely, and has forgotten Louis Malle. Sometimes Schrader offers the right director (for me) and the wrong film.
For example: instead of "Barton Fink," the Coen Brothers’ masterwork, he gives “The Big Lebowski.” And I much prefer Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” or “Zelig” to “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But that’s what a list is all about.
My favorite part of Schrader’s piece, however, is his take, as a disciple of the late Pauline Kael on her thesis of "trash, art, and the movies."
Schrader writes: “Trash does corrupt. Trash doesn’t give one an appetite for art any more than Big Macs give one appetite for healthy cuisine. And trash has won the day. Later in life, after she’d retired, Kael confided to David Denby that she hadn’t realized “everything would be trash.” So frighteningly true.