An L.A. auction house that is being sued by representatives of pop singer Michael Jackson said it plans to go ahead with a sale of more than 2,000 of the entertainer's possessions.
Julien's Auctions, which specializes in entertainment memorabilia, has been working with Jackson and his representatives since last summer to catalog the items that once filled the pop icon's 2,700-acre former home known as Neverland Ranch.
The eclectic items including stage outfits, fine art, furniture and even the gates to the ranch have generated worldwide interest in the four-day auction starting April 22 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The Business Journal profiled the auction March 2 after being given a preview of the items.
However, Jackson's MJJ Productions Inc. filed a lawsuit March 4 in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that the auction house had refused to return certain "priceless and irreplaceable items."
According to the suit, Julien's Auctions had agreed to provide MJJ with a complete inventory of items and that Jackson would have the final decision about which pieces would be sold. The auction house has not provided the list, MJJ claims, and it has "refused to return the property despite repeated demands for its immediate return."
Darren Julien, chief executive and founder of the auction house, said he was surprised to learn of the lawsuit.
"It's disappointing and it's shocking," Julien said in a telephone interview from Ireland, where he is holding promotional exhibitions of items from the auction. "If he doesn't want this sold, why would he have given us the items in the first place? We're an auction house and this is what we do. We're not a moving company or a storage facility."
The auction house, which has conducted sales for celebrities such as Cher, was contacted in July by Tohme R. Tohme, president of MJJ, about arranging the Jackson auction.
During the subsequent months, Julien said he has been in frequent contact with Jackson and Tohme, and has provided them with photographs of the items and multiple inventory lists. Julien said he has already pulled a number of items out of the sale at the singer's request, including two paintings that were returned to Jackson Feb. 27 and three Rolls-Royce automobiles delivered March 2.
"We have been accommodating any requests made by Michael Jackson for the past eight months," said Julien, adding he believed he had a good working relationship with the Jackson camp and that he did not find out about the lawsuit until his employee e-mailed a newspaper report to him in Ireland last week. "We get off the plane and the first night we find out there was a lawsuit filed."
MJJ's attorney, Alan Gutman, declined to discuss the lawsuit or Julien's comments.
Steven Thomas, a partner in Irell & Manella LLP's L.A. office, said disputes like this are not uncommon in estate auctions. Often, initial agreements are signed without full knowledge of what pieces will be sold.
"If the two parties failed to be specific, then you end up with these kinds of misunderstandings," said Thomas, who is not involved with the lawsuit. "When there's ambiguity you're asking for trouble down the line."
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