A panel with California’s Second Appellate District found the trial court made a mistake by letting the jury decide things only a judge can determine.
(CN) — A California appeals court on Tuesday sliced the $9 million awarded to music producer Quincy Jones as royalties for producing several of pop legend Michael Jackson’s records down to just over $2.5 million.
In 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded Jones $9.4 million in royalties and production fees for his role in producing Jackson’s hits such as “Billie Jean” and ”Thriller.” Jones claimed Jackson’s estate denied him fair payment when it released remixed versions of Jackson hits for use in the concert film “This Is It” and Cirque du Soleil performances.
Jones claimed Sony Music Entertainment and Jackson’s estate owed him close to $30 million in royalties for edits and remixes of music he produced with Jackson. The Jackson estate said in court filings it estimated Quincy was owed no more than $392,000 in licensing fees for the productions.
Also, Jones has been paid at least $17 million for production fees and royalties since 2009, attorneys for MJJ Productions, Jackson’s production company, said in court papers.
But the jury found Jackson’s estate breached the parties’ 1978 and 1985 producer agreements, specifically the terms for royalties and fees on remixes of master recordings.
MJJ Productions appealed, arguing LA County Superior Court Judge Michael L. Stern should not have allowed the jury to interpret terms of the producer agreements because they made errors in their consideration of the contracts.
A Second Appellate District panel agreed in a 45-page unpublished ruling Tuesday, finding the jury wrongfully included licensing income for its $9.4 million award and income beyond the 10% royalty fee outlined in the producer agreement.
“Interpretation of section 4(a) [of the producer agreement] was solely a judicial function, and the trial court erred when it gave that issue to the jury,” Second Appellate District Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst wrote for the panel.
The appeals court trimmed the $9.4 million jury award, vacating the $1.5 million awarded to Jones for remixed master fees and the $5.3 million for unpaid joint venture profits.
But the panel affirmed the $1.9 million awarded to Jones for master use fees for the “This Is It” concert and nearly $600,000 for other production agreements.
Presiding Justice Elwood Lui and Justice Brian M. Hoffstadt joined in the opinion.
The court struck down Jones’ cross-appeal claim that Judge Stern unfairly denied leave to amend his pleadings to prove financial elder abuse.
“Jones never provided a satisfactory explanation for waiting so long to seek leave to amend,” Ashmann-Gerst wrote. “We conclude his delay in seeking leave to amend was unjustified. Further, we conclude the amendment would have prejudiced MJJP.”
The panel also denied Jones’ bid to collect discretionary prejudgment interest.
“We conclude that the trial court made an implied finding that the factual circumstances did not justify discretionary prejudgment interest, and that it properly exercised its discretion,” Ashmann-Gerst wrote. “In its ruling, the trial court indicated it thought the case was complex, and that prejudgment interest is less appropriate when, as here, there is a great disparity between the complaint and the damages awarded. It is not probable that the error, if any, caused prejudice.”
Attorneys representing the Jackson estate in court proceedings applauded the ruling in a statement.
“Quincy Jones was the last person we thought would try to take advantage of Michael Jackson by filing a lawsuit three years after he died asking for tens of millions of dollars he wasn’t entitled to,” said Howard Weitzman of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert. “We knew the verdict was wrong when we heard it, and the court of appeal has completely vindicated us. From the beginning this was an attempt to take advantage of Michael knowing he wasn’t here to defend himself.”
The estate was also represented by Jonathan P. Steinsapir of the Kinsella Weitzman firm and Zia F. Modabber and Tami Sims of Katten Muchin Rosenman.
John Branca, co-executor of the Jackson estate, said in the statement the ruling represents justice for Jackson and his family.
“So many people have tried to take advantage of Michael and mischaracterize him since his death,” said Branca. “It’s gratifying that in this case the court in an overwhelmingly favorable and just decision, recognizes that Michael Jackson was both an enormous talent and an extremely fair business executive.”
Jones’ attorney J. Michael Hennigan of McKool Smith Hennigan also claimed a victory of sorts.
“While we disagree with portions of the court’s decision and are evaluating our options going forward, we are pleased that the court affirmed the jury’s determination that MJJ Productions failed to pay Quincy Jones more than $2.5 million that it owed him,” Hennigan said.