The Los Angeles auction house slapped with a lawsuit by Michael Jackson vowed Friday that it would go ahead with its plans to sell off the contents of Jackson’s Neverland estate and, if necessary, pay off its fees and expenses from the proceeds.
Darren Julien, the owner of a boutique auction house with a large clientele of A-list celebrities, expressed indignation at the suit, which accuses him of trying to sell the litigation-happy pop star’s possessions without his permission.
“They are the ones that sought out and contacted us,” Julien told TheWrap from Ireland, where he is mounting an advance exhibition of some of the auction items to drum up international publicity. “The only reason we are mounting this auction is because they asked us to. We are a very respectable operation.”
Julien said he had been in regular contact with both Jackson and his closest confidant, the mysterious Dr. Tohme Tohme, and had been under the impression they were happy with everything he was doing -- right up to the time the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday.
The litigation -- in which his actions are described as “malicious, fraudulent, extreme, outrageous and without any legal justification whatsoever” -- came as a complete surprise, he said.
Among the auction items – numerous enough to fill 10 semi trucks -- are the crested gates of Neverland, Jackson’s Popemobile-style electric vehicles and dozens of his fabled sequined gloves and military-style stage uniforms. (Click here for a secret peek at Jacko's stash.)
Julien said 30 his employees spent several weeks last summer clearing out Neverland under a veil of complete secrecy. They then put the contents in storage, photographing and cataloguing each item ahead of the week-long public exhibition and four-day auction due to be staged next month in the old Robinson’s May space next to the Beverly Hilton hotel.
A New York design house plans to turn the empty Robinson’s May into the closest replica of Neverland it can manage. Julien has said he expects the sale to fetch somewhere in the $2-4 million range. That, though, is a deliberately low figure and the final haul could easily reach the tens of millions.
Having initially thought he would contact the Jackson camp to clear up any misunderstandings in person, Julien said he had now decided to wait until he was formally served with the suit on his return to the United States and then leave any response to his own lawyers.
He said he wasn’t worried about the new lawsuit, or the risk that he won’t be reimbursed for the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has spent. “It’s not for us to try to figure out what this is about, but I don’t think there’s a logical explanation for it,” he said.
Jackson has a track record of starting legal fights with auction houses. In 2007 the New York house Guernsey’s -- which has a similar reputation and client list to Julien’s -- took on the sale of Jackson family items left in a storage locker in New Jersey and abandoned for so long a bankruptcy judge gave them to the storage company.
Jackson sued -- and obtained a court order -- for the return of his extensive Three Stooges collection (much of which now appears in the Beverly Hills auction catalogue) and several personal papers. Guernsey’s complied with the court order and then went ahead with the auction, which took place in Las Vegas. But the litigation dragged on regardless.
A spokeswoman for Guernsey’s made clear to TheWrap the company was so traumatized by the experience -- and the fear that the case might flare up all over again -- that it still couldn’t talk about it.
As for Julien, he told TheWrap, “We do have a contract that clearly states that everything we have goes to auction. Just because it says that doesn’t mean we won’t return items he wants to withdraw from sale. In fact, we’ve already done that with some items.”
The things Jackson had pulled back, Julien said, was mostly “small stuff” – paintings and a few other items of sentimental value. He was open to any other request from the Jackson camp.
He said: “Our first question to them is, if you have a problem, why didn’t you call us?”
Jackson, meanwhile, is busy fighting off other legal challenges as he makes one more attempt to revive his flagging career. His plans to stage a Broadway musical version of his 1983 “Thriller” video may have to overcome a lawsuit from video’s director and writer, John Landis.
This week, he announced he would be performing in London on a summer farewell concert tour. He hasn’t toured since 2002, in part because of his habit of winding up fighting his concert promoters in court.