An appellate court on Monday overturned a $20 million award against a defunct charter jet company for secretly videotaping Michael Jackson and his attorneys during a 2003 flight.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled the amount was excessive, and XtraJet and its owner Jeffrey Borer shouldn’t have to pay it to attorneys Mark Geragos and Pat Harris.
“The amount awarded to the plaintiffs was so great that it shocks the conscience,” the panel wrote in its ruling.
The case was sent back to the trial judge who last March found in favor of the two lawyers.
The panel said a new trial could occur on damages alone unless Geragos and Harris would share a reduced award of $750,000.
Brian Kabateck, an attorney representing Geragos, said he was leaning heavily toward a new trial.
“The judges acknowledge the behavior here was reprehensible,” Kabateck said.
Borer and an associate pleaded guilty to conspiracy two years ago for videotaping Jackson and his lawyers as they flew to the pop star’s surrender on molestation charges. A jury later acquitted Jackson of 14 charges in the case.
Superior Court Judge Soussan Bruguera ordered XtraJet and Borer to pay the amount for invading the privacy of Geragos and Harris in order to sell the video of Jackson to the media.
The appellate court noted in its ruling that Geragos and Harris weren’t severely affected by the contents of the tape because it was never publicly released and didn’t contain any audio that would violate attorney-client privilege.
XtraJet attorney Lloyd Kirschbaum was pleased with the ruling.
“It’s outstanding,” he said. “You can’t be damaged by a tape no one has seen.”
Geragos, Harris and Jackson filed the invasion-of-privacy suit against Borer and XtraJet in November 2003. Jackson dropped out as a plaintiff in April 2005.