When Michael Jackson failed to show up for court on Thursday due to a spider bite, the judge in his ongoing breach-of-contract trial in Santa Maria, California, ordered the singer to undergo a medical examination.
Jackson has complained of a series of medical maladies since the beginning of the trial, in which he's accused of backing out on a pair of millennium concert performances (see "Michael Jackson Takes Stand In Millennium Concert Lawsuit").
The singer initially blamed his late arrival on November 14 on a mysterious ailment — it later turned out he was just sick of the unflattering court photos taken the previous day (see "Jackson Late To Court As His Lawyers Object To Photographer"). The next day, Jackson claimed he received his first spider bite, on his hand. Then, when court resumed after a two-week recess in which Jackson took a controversial trip to Germany (see "Michael Jackson Calls Baby-Dangling Incident A 'Terrible Mistake' "), Jackson showed up to Santa Barbara Superior Court on crutches on Tuesday, complaining of a second spider bite. This time the bite was on his left foot, which he said was swollen.
In addition to the crutches, Jackson relied upon a bodyguard, who helped carry him out of court on Wednesday. "It is a spider bite," Jackson told reporters. "It is real bad. If I showed it to you, you'd be shocked. It hurts very much right now as I speak."
Though Jackson keeps pet tarantulas on his Neverland ranch, he claimed that a small indigenous spider that had crawled out from the scrub brush near his compound caused the bite. He said it had been smoked out during a routine fumigation. However, a Southern California entomologist told the New York Post on Wednesday that he thinks it's doubtful Jackson's spider bite could have been caused by a local variety, since the only kind of poisonous spider in Jackson's neighborhood would be the black widow, whose bite does not cause swelling.
"The fact that Michael Jackson says he has a spider bite is a bunch of crap," Rick Vetter, staff research associate in the department of entomology at UC Riverside and an internationally known expert on spiders, told the Post. "Jackson has no idea what he's talking about. I want to see the spider."
Judge Zel Canter, however, said that he believed Jackson's complaint to be legitimate, and ordered that the singer receive an independent medical examination. On Friday (December 6), Jackson did so, with the independent doctor's results confirming that Jackson had a legitimate ailment that prevented him from appearing in court, according to a representative of Marcel Avram, the promoter suing Jackson. Specifics regarding the ailment were not disclosed. Though the trial is expected to continue into January, Jackson's return to the witness stand is still to be determined.
Meanwhile, the repercussions from Jackson's baby-dangling incident continue to mount. While the State Department of Social Services and Santa Barbara County's Children and Family Services cannot disclose how many formal complaints they've received regarding the matter, nor if they're investigating the matter, a spokesperson did confirm that they have been "swamped" with calls and e-mails from concerned citizens.
"People are calling in by the dozen," Social Services spokesperson Andrew Roth said. "Personally, I've talked to more than three dozen people, including an 83-year-old grandmother from Waco, Texas. People are calling in from all over."
As far as formal complaints, at least two have been made public. Attorney Gloria Allred's formal complaint to the State Department of Social Services has made the most headlines (see "Michael Jackson Tells Attorney To 'Go To Hell' ") but psychiatrist and child welfare advocate Dr. Carole Lieberman actually filed the first formal complaint. In a letter dated November 21 to Santa Barbara's Children and Family Services, she said she was "mandated" to report suspected child abuse.
"It is a clear-cut case of child endangerment," Lieberman wrote of the baby-dangling incident. "In addition to the obvious physical danger the child was in ... he is also living in psychological danger with Michael as his single parent. As a psychiatrist, I was alarmed at the way that Michael had dehumanized him, putting a towel over his head, and holding him like a rag doll. The child hit his legs on the railing and Michael showed no evidence of being aware that the child could be in pain. The child, flailing about, was in obvious emotional distress, dangling from a height with no support. He ultimately lifted him back up by putting his hand directly over the baby's crotch. Instead of showing any human connection, attachment or concern for his child, Michael smiled and waved to his fans below."
In addition to the incident, Lieberman cites the children's isolation from their mothers, Jackson's own dysfunctional childhood, and 1993's sexual molestation allegations and subsequent out-of-court settlement as further motives to conduct an investigation. Lieberman also recommended that the children be placed back with their mothers or other family members until Jackson begins psychiatric treatment and attends parenting classes.
"He doesn't have the psychological make-up to be a father," Lieberman said, "and this isn't any way to raise children. But the only way to get Social Services to take this seriously is to put more pressure on them. They're assessing the complaint, but it's no secret that they don't like to investigate celebrities. It's hard to talk to the children if they're behind gates or if they don't attend school. And they need people who are first-hand witnesses of the children. That's hard to get in this case."
For her part, Allred responded to Jackson's verbal attack on her by holding a press conference in her Los Angeles office on Wednesday, in which she told reporters, "While Jackson wants me to go to hell, I want him to go to parenting class." Asking that Jackson realize that this isn't about her, but his own behavior, she said that she's placed another call to Child Protective Services. "There really is nothing more that I could do," she said.
"Rather than attacking me, Michael Jackson needs to attack the problem," she said. "If Michael Jackson is truly sorry that he endangered his baby, he should demonstrate that in deeds, not words, by voluntarily submitting himself to an investigation. He's indicated in a prior statement that he did not intend to harm the child, but that would not be a defense to the act of child endangerment. In fact, even if the child were not physically injured or even emotionally injured, that would also not be a defense."
"The only issue that's relevant is whether the person willfully put the child in that situation. The result is not important. Would there be any one of us who would want to volunteer our baby for him to dangle over the side of a fourth-floor balcony, to be held by one arm? I don't think so."