August 2015 Update: Henry Vaccaro's defamation lawsuit against John Branca got dismissed due to lack of jurisdiction. Vaccaro had filed the lawsuit in New Jersey but Branca isn't a New Jersey resident and doesn't have enough ties to New Jersey for NJ to have jurisdiction on him. If Vaccaro wants to pursue his defamation lawsuit, he will have to refile in California.
Original Post: In an interesting turn of events Henry Vaccaro sues John Branca for defamation. You might know that Henry Vaccaro had a business deal with Jacksons in 1993. When Jacksons failed to make payments, Vaccaro sued and won judgments against several members of Jackson family. Vaccaro later seized some assets (also known as Jackson family memorabilia) to satisfy those judgments. Both Janet and Michael sued Vaccaro. Michael successfully shut down a pay per view website but did not follow up the lawsuit due to his criminal proceedings. So as a result Michael’s 2004 lawsuit against Vaccaro was dismissed.
Vaccaro later formed a partnership with Howard Mann. Howard Mann formed a partnership with Katherine Jackson to exploit Vaccaro assets. MJ Estate sued Mann and later Vaccaro for copyright infringement. Estate argued Michael wasn’t a part of the original bankruptcy/judgments and Michael maintained his copyrights. Court agreed that the bankruptcy sale sold only personal property but did not transfer any rights, titles or interest in MJ’s intellectual property. In other words while Vaccaro is/was the owner of the physical items he acquired during Jacksons bankruptcy/judgment, Michael Jackson (and now his Estate) is the owner of MJ's intellectual property rights.
At the end court granted a permanent injunction to stop Mann/Vaccaro from using those assets (mainly photographs, drawings and music) and they were ordered to pay $2.5 Million to MJ Estate. Vaccaro is responsible for paying $500,000 to MJ Estate while Mann is responsible for the rest.
In a recent twist, on December 17,2014 Vaccaro filed a defamation lawsuit against John Branca. In his lawsuit Vaccaro says in May 2013 Core Media approached to him to acquire some or all of Jackson Memorabilia. (At the time Core Media was part owner of Elvis Presley Estate and memorabilia but they sold their share at November 2013.)
Vaccaro says in December 2013 he learned that John Branca sent an email to Core media in which he said
“ Henry Vaccaro is guilty of fraud. We have obtained a judgment against him and he is bankrupt.”.
Vaccaro claims based on this email Core Media refused to do business with Vaccaro. Vaccaro claims Branca’s statements were false and it resulted in Vaccaro losing a lucrative business deal. As a result Vaccaro is suing Branca for defamation.
My personal opinion
In defamation cases the most common defenses are “truth” and “statement of opinion”. In a “truth” defense the accused demonstrates what they said was accurate. If a statement is accurate, it cannot be defamation. A “statement of opinion” defense differentiates between statements made as facts and opinion. While a false statement of fact is defamation, statement of opinion (such as I think, I believe) is protected by first amendment / freedom of speech. In other words law differentiate between for example “Jack beats his wife”(statement of fact) and “I think Jack beats his wife”(statement of opinion).
If we look to Branca’s alleged email of “ Henry Vaccaro is guilty of fraud. We have obtained a judgment against him and he is bankrupt.”, We can see at least two of his statements are true or he has a reason to believe they are true.
As I mentioned above Estate has won their lawsuit against Vaccaro and Mann and judge ordered Mann to pay $2 Million and Vaccaro to pay $500,000 to MJ Estate at September 2012. So “We have obtained a judgment against him” is true.
As I tweeted about it before Henry Vaccaro filed for bankruptcy in April 2013 (Case number 13-17946-CMG at New Jersey Bankruptcy court). This bankruptcy was the reason why Jackson memorabilia was sold in an auction recently. Vaccaro and Mann are also on record back in September 2012, saying they probably won’t be able to pay the judgment to MJ Estate. So “he is bankrupt” seems to be true as well.
The only point open to interpretation and could possible be considered as defamation in my opinion is “Henry Vaccaro is guilty of fraud.”. I wonder the background of this email exchange between Core Media and John Branca. Remember MJ Estate vs. Mann/Vaccaro lawsuit has established that Estate owns and controls MJ’s intellectual property at Vaccaro Jackson memorabilia and there’s a permanent injunction in place. So some items (such as Jacksons variety show masters or photographs) cannot be released or used without Estate’s approval. So this makes me wonder if Vaccaro made some false statements which prompted Branca describe it as fraud. I guess we’ll see when Branca files his response. Also I want to note that Frank Coonis sued Henry Vaccaro for fraud but the case was dismissed. I didn't check to see if any other fraud lawsuits were filed against Vaccaro and if they ended with a guilty/liability verdict.
Odds of Vaccaro winning this lawsuit against Branca? I would say slim to none. Not only Vaccaro needs to prove Branca’s email was defamatory but also it was the reason why Core Media didn’t enter into business with him. (Based on the recent Jackson memorabilia auction it could also be argued that the remaining items in Vaccaro’s possession wasn’t interesting, valuable or useable). Vaccaro representing himself wouldn’t help his chances either.