In 2009, not long after the death of Michael Jackson, a group of women met on through a Michael Jackson community, on Amazon.com. They found they had many things in common, including a deep concern for how Michael had been unfairly portrayed throughout his life by the media. Realizing the impact this would have on his legacy, they banded together and formed the idea to try and have a law passed in California that would make it illegal to defame the dead. Cadeflaw was born.
In this interview, Lauren and I spoke with several Cadeflaw members. It came as no surprise to either of us to learn that they have conducted intelligent research into what is needed to have a law like this passed, and their organization is well-structured. They are also 100% committed and dedicated to seeing this project through to the end.
Valmai: Could you tell us how and when Cadeflaw was formed, and how you initially came to be involved in this project? Obviously Michael was the main inspiration behind it, but were there other factors?
Karen: Back in 2009, when Michael passed away, quite a few people (myself included), had a really hard time with his death. We really didn’t know what to do with our grief. We found a group on an Amazon thread called, “Why are we still crying about Michael Jackson?” Through that thread I met a lot of wonderful people. We talked back and forth, while holding our hearts on our sleeves for Michael.
Everybody wanted vindication for Michael, and I happened to see an article that you had written, called Truth vs. Sensationalism, which really sparked something in my heart. Mary Brookins and I spoke, and we decided if we wanted to do something, we had to stand up and do it now. If we got enough support, we were going to try to file a class action suit against the media. I contacted my attorney, and I was told that a class action suit was not going to handle the problem.
I gave that information to Mary, and we decided to attempt an anti-defamation effort. Mary prepared The Michael Jackson Legacy Anti-Defamation Law to present to California legislators.
Mary: Initially, it was Michael, but we believe it’s wrong to defame the character of any deceased person. They can’t defend themselves—and my personal mission is to help those left behind who suffer emotionally and financially, to protect and preserve the legacy of their loved ones. I think this law will provide them with that.
Defamation offends the deceased's relatives; it exposes the family to public hatred, contempt, ridicule; it blackens the memory of their loved ones; and it provokes a breach of peace between people. That’s what drives me to be active and to stay active with this.
Jennifer: Yes. I came across this idea, and I put some deep thought into it. I wanted to see what the ladies were doing. I thought that this would be something I would be very blessed and proud to be a part of.
It’s not just Michael; there are other stars who have passed away that the media have done this to also—perhaps not on the same scale, but it hurts me to see this. So that’s why I am here.
Valmai: Well, that’s how the tabloids/media-loids earn their ratings and make their money, not just in California, but everywhere. In California, the star capital of the world, they have a well-spring of celebrities at which to point their cameras and write about, truthfully or not. They expose people’s private lives on magazine covers, on TV, in newspapers, and on the Internet. I know these people are still alive, but the legacy they will leave behind will be tainted.
Barbara: Part of that is that we have allowed the media to go too far. We enabled them, and they have no regard for anyone, including children.
Valmai: Yes, and like you said, we have enabled them; we have allowed them to get this far, and somewhere we have to take responsibility for that.
Barbara: Yes, we are making poor decisions about our medicine, what to purchase, what schools to send our children to—everything that involves our lives—off of their misinformation. Because we don’t stand up to them, they continue to do it, and they continue to use the First Amendment and the Shield laws to protect themselves.
Valmai: Karen, we understand that you went to California last year, and met with Tom Mesereau. Can you tell us what his advice was?
Karen: I was going to California in October, 2010, to visit my daughter, who is in the military. I decided I was going to see Tom Mesereau while I was there. I got in touch with his office and after a number of calls, Mr. Mesereau called me and we set up an appointment in November, 2010.
Mr. Mesereau is the most eloquent, elegant man I have ever met. He was extremely kind, and he gave me 45 minutes of his time free of charge. He was kind enough to look through our anti-defamation law petition. At that time, he noticed that there were a few things that needed to be changed in the wording of the petition letter. He advised me that he is a criminal defense attorney, not a defamation attorney, which of course, I understood. He did, in fact, change some of the wording, and we had a very nice conversation. Mr. Mesereau gave me his phone number, and told me if he could help in anyway, he would talk to us at any time. He is very much a proponent for the First Amendment, which we are not trying to change. What we are trying to do is change what is now the law in California, which states:
ARTICLE 1. DECLARATION OF RIGHTS
SECTION 2. (a) Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.
And, this is what we’re going for—the abuse of that right.
I did go to another attorney when I was in California, Mr. Michael Harris of Rogers and Harris, Esq. He handled the defamation case for the Errol Flynn family for his Estate. He agreed with Mr. Mesereau that it would be a challenge to attempt an anti-defamation law, because as it stands, a deceased person cannot be defamed. He recommended, as Mr. Mesereau did, that we retain a constitutional attorney.
When I returned from California, I gave all this information to Ms. Brookins, and she prepared the Cadeflaw Petition, which is the baby of the Anti-Defamation Petition.
We don’t want to stop freedom of speech. I served in Vietnam, my husband served in Vietnam, my daughter has been in the Gulf wars; I do know what freedom of speech is. Nobody’s asking to curtail freedom of speech. What we are asking for is accountability for its abuse. This is not just about Michael Jackson. We use Michael’s name, but it has to be for every man, woman, and child.
Lauren: Did you do any research on any previous efforts in regards to this issue? Apparently, there was a similar case in New York that came close to passing, but didn’t. Did you take a look at that case at all?
Mary: Yes, we’ve done quite a bit of research. The New York case was in 1987. It involved a young, black teenager who accused a New York police officer, and a State Trooper, of a racist attack; a rape.
The gentlemen maintained their innocence, and the police officer who was implicated, committed suicide. In fact, he wasn’t implicated until after he committed suicide. The Grand Jury in New York ultimately rejected the teenager’s claim. The reputations of the men were completely destroyed, as well as the memory of the deceased officer. The New York Assembly pushed for a posthumous defamation law, which was supported by Mario Cuomo, the Governor at that time. The Assembly encountered a lot of negative feedback from news organizations and the media. The communication industry found a way to stop the proposal for the law, and there was no attempt made to re-enact the proposal. There were many more cases, but the law was never changed. That just gives me more incentive to keep this ball moving, and to do everything in my power to get a law passed, because it’s time something was done.
Valmai: Do you know what other states have a law like this?
Mary: Colorado, Idaho, Georgia, Louisiana, and Nevada.
Lauren: And has anybody made contact with a group(s) that might have been successful in those states?
Mary: My hope is that more people might support this, and help in doing the work and research that needs to be done. No one gets paid to do this, and you have to be very special to be a part of a group like this, because it’s going to take a lot of hard work.
Valmai: Is the petition, or proposal, modeled after another one in particular? Who would actually draft it? Would an attorney have to do that?
Mary: Not necessarily. Barbara Owens did a marvelous job writing the petition letter that we posted on our site, and we have a young lady from Southern California, Julie Noel, who is an attorney, and who has expressed interest in writing this bill. We don’t have a model yet.
Lauren: How do you see the anti-defamation law co-existing with the First Amendment?
Mary: It can co-exist very well, absolutely. Look at California’s Article 1, Section 2. This law would not attempt to restrain, or abridge the liberty of speech. When we defame the character of a deceased person, it affects their descendants, the people who are left behind. By proxy, through an Estate, there is an obligation to sustain the US Government, and an Estate can sue be sued. A deceased's civil rights are being violated because, as in Section 1, any opinion that does not reflect the truth should be considered abusive, harmful, and offensive. Defamation of the deceased therefore interferes with the enjoyment, happiness, and one's inalienable rights. It says the same thing in the Constitution. So, it would exist very well with the First Amendment. Say, write or speak what you want, but one must be held accountable, and if you cannot prove what you are saying is the truth, then the family should have an opportunity to bring an appropriate lawsuit or cause of action on behalf of themselves and the deceased person.
Lauren: How would you define defamation? Who would decide what defamation is, and what is not?
Mary: There are things said about others that are absolutely true, and if you’ve done your research and can prove your statement, then it is not defamation. It is defamation when you can’t provide proof for your statement.
While I’m alive, I can challenge the untruth, but if I’m deceased, my children should have a right to file suit against you, because what you are doing is blackening my memory. I deserve to have my legacy preserved and protected. If no one else is going to try and change that, then we are.
Valmai: If there were such a law, would it only be the family who could sue?
Mary: No. As far as the guidelines are concerned, an Estate should have the right to file a posthumous law suit. Once a person passes, the Estate may have an opportunity to earn money, and continue to be financed. If the deceased is defamed to such an extent that people will not purchase any material associated with that person, then that adversely affects the heirs. For example: there are those who will have nothing to do with Michael Jackson, because they absolutely believe everything the media has said in the past, and continues to now. The masses receive their information from the media, and if the masses choose to believe the untruths published by the media and other sources that may not be credible: this could rob the estate and heirs of income that might have been earned. Michael Jackson left behind three children and elderly parents, who may have in the past, and are still now, dependent upon his estate for their financial support.
Lauren: What about the issue of financial damages? Public media enjoys the financial gain from the defamation of a person through stories, lies, innuendo, etc. Perhaps the only thing they would understand is a financial penalty?
Mary: It may be too early to address that issue. Once the law is passed, any financial damages would be decided by the court. I would think it would apply to the media, or anyone who denied a person’s civil rights, living or deceased.
Valmai: Can you outline the steps needed to put this law into place?
Jennifer: Obviously, it begins with the idea; the bill must be written and needs an author. Once written, it would be sent to the Legislative Council in California. There are two houses in that state, the Senate and the Assembly. Depending on which legislator authored the bill, it would go to that house first. It takes 30 days to pass, and then it is forwarded to the Rules of Committee, presented, and testimony is heard in support or opposition. There is then a hearing, where the bill is read three times. The bill can be passed, defeated, or it can be amended. Then it would go back to that house, and the process is repeated.
It is then presented to the other house, and the above steps would be repeated again. If the bill passes both houses, it goes to the Governor. The Governor has three choices: he can sign the bill, allow it to become law without his/her signature, or he/she can veto it. If it becomes law, it is given a chapter number by the Secretary of State.
Valmai: If the Governor decides to veto the bill, can it be re-introduced?
Jennifer: Yes. If a percentage of both Houses, which I believe is two-thirds, votes for it, the Governor’s veto can be overridden. Then, it would go into effect the first day of January of the following year.
Lauren: Have you contacted any legislators in California?
Barbara: We prepared a list of all the Senators and Assembly members; addresses, phone numbers and their e-mail addresses; we have contacted them, and expect to have more response once we have more California residents involved. We need more ‘foot soldiers’ willing to present petitions and request signatures from registered California voters. Online signatures would support the written petition.
Valmai: Do you know how many California residents are involved at the moment?
Mary: I’m not sure exactly; I think about fifteen Californians has signed the change.org petition, but we need more. Many have signed the initial online petition, but there is no way to contact them. The petition site is not allowed to give out information about endorsers, except the name they gave, and the geographical area they posted.
Jennifer: It weighs more having a written petition rather than an online petition, in California. The written one with actual signatures, which I have—and my job out here is to get people involved—has about thirty signatures on it.
Barbara: We do have people in California signing the online petition, but what we really need are more foot soldiers like Jennifer, to circulate the petition and get handwritten signatures.
Jennifer: Yes, that is a huge part, because California voters have to sign the petition for it to be passed.
Valmai: So, it’s not the quantity of signatures so much as it is how many of those who have signed the petition live in the State of California.
Jennifer: Correct, but the online petition showing the support we have in California, also makes a difference.
Valmai: Would you see this as the biggest stumbling block in getting this law put in place? How are you going to get support from California residents?
Jennifer: That actually is the hard part. I need to get more people here involved; get a team together locally—and in Los Angeles specifically, and also throughout California—that can help to get signatures and spread the word. We need signatures and we need support.
Valmai: There has to be a lot of Michael Jackson supporters in California, surely?
Jennifer: Yes, there are—but we need dedicated people fans or non-fans, because this isn’t just about Michael Jackson. Obviously, we are going to get more support from his fans, but we need people who are really dedicated because it takes a lot of time to go out and get these signatures, spread the word, and make contact with different media. That’s the hard part, finding people who will take this upon themselves and show up when I need them to.
Valmai: I guess I do not understand why some fans aren’t giving this their support.
Sharon: Keep in mind, not everyone responded to Michael in the same way. Not all fans or supporters see the same need as we do.
The stumbling block in getting support begins with the heavy burden of Michael’s image. The media still blacken his name, though perhaps not as badly as in the past. Some are a little more subtle about it these days.
When you come up to a group, go to work, or go to church or wherever and begin to discuss what we are doing, people say, “Yes, we’ve heard about this. This is for Michael Jackson.” So then you have to explain that this is inspired by Michael, but not necessarily just for him, and no, Michael did not do this, Michael did not do that. This is where the other Michael Jackson supporters come in: those who are spending time attempting to educate the public on what did and did not happen, and those who are rebutting negative articles. It takes support from a lot of different directions to make this happen.
And quite honestly, some people aren’t there as much now. One-third of the United States has been devastated by storms, so people’s minds are more on survival, on losing their jobs, and their husbands are screaming at them for gawking at Michael for the last 2 years, so, there are all kinds of reasons why there is not as great a support now. And there are still also a lot of fans who are more prone to fan-sy—type reading rather than advocacy forums, so some of these fans just do not know what we are doing.
Valmai: Yes, but it still makes it harder for you finding those dedicated people you need.
Sharon: Yes, yes it does.
I would also like to address something you brought up about the First Amendment and whether the anti- defamation law could co-exist with it. When we first drafted the law, one of the things that came up immediately was that people would not support it because it violates the First Amendment. That is an excuse. 50 states already have an anti-defamation law in place for the living, and one in five, for the dead. Our one happens to be new for just this particular state.
When defamation takes life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and your ability to earn revenue—and in case of people who are gone, those whose products or family will be earning revenue—that ability may be hindered because of false stories about their loved ones.
Lauren: This question has to do with the web and social media sites. Do you see the dissemination of information the way it is now versus 5 or 10 years ago as being helpful to this cause? And another question I would like you think about is, say this was passed as a law. It would only apply to people who lived and died in California, and it would only apply to what comes out of this state or what is said in this state. You could go to Nevada and say what you wanted. Because of how information is spread now, how would this affect in any great way either Michael or anyone who happens to be in California?
Sharon: When we get this law passed for the State of California—with primarily Michael being the inspiration, and also there being so many people of wealth and fame who really seem to get hammered by what is put out by the media in this state—it will empower people. More of them will stand up and begin to address issues inside and outside of their state.
Hopefully, this law will become U.S. wide. There is no reason why anyone should be able to profit by lying or deceiving viewers and readers who are taking in information and using it to make judgments and decisions. These people get away with this without suffering the consequences, and they have to be responsible for their actions. Once we get this passed, and it will take awhile, it might get picked up by another state. Hopefully, there will be multiple groups in each state looking at what’s happening in California, and they might say, “Okay, if they can get this done there,we can do it in Iowa.”
Valmai: There are a lot fans and non-fans, who are angry with the media and their continuous slander, particularly toward Michael. Do you plan to tap into that?
Mary: Even though many are angry, most do not understand the importance of this law and what it means. I think a lot of people believe their First Amendment rights will be infringed upon, so we have to educate people on what this law is about. Hopefully, in doing this interview, and through the one we did with Billy Johnson from Yahoo! Music, we can get the word out there.
My question to people is, are you angry enough to be moved to action? Are you angry enough to get up and do something about it, not just talk about it?
We tweet a lot to get the word out, and one of our main tweets is, stop the abuse of the First Amendment rights. Don’t allow people to hide behind this amendment to promote hate. We ask people to visit our website and watch our video, then tweet about it. So, we are hoping to get those who say they’re angry, to move toward action with us.
Valmai: That’s a good answer and a very good question also.
Lauren: Have you contacted, or had any support from Michael’s friends or family? Is the estate aware of what you are doing?
Mary: Absolutely! There are a lot of names on the first petition that we’re not familiar with,because used their fan monikers, and this gave us concern. That’s why we changed the petition so that people would have to give their real names. Teddy Riley, an American singer-songwriter, musician, keyboardist and record producer, signed the petition in all caps, as if he wanted the world to know he had signed it. He has also tweeted and retweeted about Cadeflaw. We have the support of Dr. Patrick Treacy, a cosmetic physician and humanitarian from Dublin, Ireland; Charles Thomson, freelance writer/reporter specializing in music and celebrity journalism; Billy Johnson, music director, freelance writer for many media outlets, and presently Senior Program Director-Urban/Video Programming Lead for Yahoo Music, and Lynton Guest, freelance writer for magazines/newspapers, singer and author of several books, including the Trials of Michael Jackson.
Jennifer Batten, guitarist, songwriter and producer who worked with Michael for many years, supports Cadeflaw and the petition, and we’ve had many tweets and retweets by Genevieve Jackson [Michael's niece], and Omer Bhatti, singer and friend of Michael Jackson. Cadeflaw has been retweeted by Akon and Billy Johnson. Billy doesn’t claim to be a friend of the family. He is a major media source from California who has been around for awhile, but he does support the entire family.
I’m pretty sure, with Genevieve and Omer tweeting about us, that the family is aware of what we are doing. I have also notified the estate in several ways. I have faxed, emailed and sent a registered letter to John Branca about what we are doing, and I have also sent a registered letter to Katherine Jackson. From John Branca’s office, I received a signed certified receipt noting the letter had been delivered. A registered letter sent to Mrs. Katherine Jackson at the Hayvenhurst address in Encino, was not returned, but no signed return receipt has been received as of yet. However, no one can say they have no knowledge of this project because they do. We haven’t had a response to either letter, but they are aware of it. We have also been sending tweets to Jermaine, Jackie, Tito, Marlon, Randy, La Toya and Janet Jackson since November of 2010. Since we all follow these Jackson family members, we know they have observed our tweets.
Valmai: You are now a registered, nonprofit corporation, and you are able to collect donations. Can you tell us what this money will be used for?
Jennifer: Well, we will pretty much use the money for whatever is needed to get this law passed. Most of the money will go, hopefully in the future, toward a Constitutional attorney. Having an attorney is the key, so the rest of the money will go toward anything else we need to get the law passed. And when it’s over, if there is anything left over, obviously it will go to charity.
Mary: In California, it will cost between $30,000 and $50,000, to hire a Constitutional attorney, so that is why our goal is $50,000; but whatever it takes, that’s what we will do.
Valmai: Is this $50,000 just to retain an attorney, and start him or her working on this?
Mary: No, that’s for the entire process from beginning to end.
People may think I am a dreamer, but I work what I dream, and I am hoping that an attorney might come forward, say that he likes what we are doing, that he believes in it, and that he will do this for free.
Lauren: I would just like to ask a question that goes back a little bit. In California, we have what they call, the Initiative process. Have you looked into that, or has it been mentioned at all?
Jennifer: I am aware of it, but, no, I haven’t mentioned it.
Lauren: There are a number of laws here in California that are passed just on the number of signatures gained from the population. In any of your discussions with legal experts, have any of them mentioned this Initiative process? Is this another route you could take?
Jennifer: It is another route, yes, and it’s something that we need to go into more depth with. Basically, if you have enough signatures, you can pretty much get it done. In California, that's 8% of active voters, which I believe is at least 400,000 people.
Valmai: How are you going to collect donations? Will you set up a PayPal account?
Mary: We already have a PayPal account, and we also have an account with a bank in Florida. So, all people have to do, is go to our website at www.cadeflaw.com to make their donation. They can either use their real name or donate anonymously.
Lauren: It sounds like a lot of money, but it is possible to raise that much. Last year there was a push to develp a garden for Michael at the museum where he was inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame. Though the project fell through, there was an anonymous donor who gave $20,000 toward the garden. So, how can we help in this effort? What can we do?
Jennifer: Well, you are actually already helping by doing this interview. Its helping us get the word out first of all, and by doing that, it’s drawing attention to what we are doing. That’s really what we need right now: attention through social networks, different websites, and the media to make more people aware and offer their support.
Valmai: Is there anything anybody wants to add?
Mary: Yes. I just want thank you Ms. Owens and Ms. Trainor, for giving us this opportunity, for believing in us, and for supporting us. God bless you.
Valmai: Well, thank you, Mary. Anything that we can do to help get the word out there, we will do it.
Beginning in August, Cadeflaw will have a permanent column in this publication in which they keep us updated on their progress, and ways in which you can offer your help and support.
If you live in California, and have the time and dedication to assist Jennifer Marino in gathering signatures for the written petition, please email her at email@example.com
You can also find her on Twitter under All4LoveJen
For more information about Cadeflaw and to offer your support or to make a donation, please visit these sites:
Cadeflaw Italian Petition: Guilia Passaro
Cadeflaw US Petition
Initial Cadeflaw Petition
Information on the California Constitution, Article 1: Declaration of Rights:
Information on the California State Assembly, legislative procedure:
Promotional Video #1: http://youtu.be/ndND5pNv7UY Cadeflaw Advocates, 2010
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