AEG lawyer: ‘Ugly stuff’ to come in Michael Jackson death trial

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Los Angeles (CNN) — AEG Live’s lawyer warned jurors that “we’re going to show some ugly stuff” as he began the defense’s opening statement in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial Monday.

The concert promoter has no choice to reveal Jackson’s “deepest, darkest secret” because the company must defend itself from the accusation from Jackson’s family that it is responsible for the pop icon’s death, Marvin Putnam said.

Before Putnam began, a Jackson lawyer played for the jury a sentimental song Jackson wrote and recorded for his three children titled “You Are My Life.”

“You are the sun, you make me shine more like the stars that twinkle at night,

You are the moon that glows in my heart,

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You’re my day time, my nighttime,

My world. You are my life.”

Katherine Jackson, his mother, wiped tears from her face as her late son’s soft voice filled the small courtroom.

And so begins a trial, which could last several months, that promises dramatic revelations and legal fireworks. With opening statements delivered, the Jackson’s call their first witness Tuesday morning — Orlando Martinez, the Los Angeles Police detective who investigated Jackson’s death.

AEG Live executives are “ruthless guys” who ignored Michael Jackson’s health problems and his doctor’s ethical conflicts, which led to the pop icon’s death, a Jackson family lawyer argued Monday.

Jurors earning $15 a day will decide whether one of the world’s largest entertainment companies should pay Jackson’s mother and three children billions of dollars for its liability in the pop icon’s death.

Randy and Rebbie Jackson, Michael’s siblings, were with their mother in the front row, just a few feet away from jurors.

“There will be no question in your mind that they were ruthless and they wanted to be No. 1 at all cost,” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish said.

AEG executives knew that Jackson was emotionally and physically weak, Panish told jurors.

Jackson was in an “obvious sharp decline” in the weeks after Murray began working as his personal doctor while he prepared for his comeback concerts.

Another warning sign should have been that Murray asked for $5 million for the job and eventually agreed on $150,000 a month, Panish said. Another doctor had told AEG he would do the job for $40,000 a month as long as Jackson was “clean,” meaning not on drugs, he said.

Panish played for the jury a video of an AEG expert who agreed that Murray’s pay demand was “outrageous.”

“That raised red flag because it was an enormous sum of money,” defense expert Marty Hom said.

“AEG ignored the obvious red flags, and they hired Dr. Murray,” Panish said.

Later in the trial, jurors will hear Michael’s oldest son and daughter describe their father’s last days. But they will also endure weeks of testimony from medical and financial experts offering opinions about the singer’s health, addiction and career.

Only 16 journalists and a few members of the public will be allowed inside the courtroom because many of its 45 seats are reserved for parties involved in the trial, including the Jackson family. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos denied CNN’s request to televise the trial.

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The central issue

The central issue is simple: Did AEG Live, the company promoting Jackson’s comeback concerts in 2009, hire or supervise Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s June 25, 2009, death?

Jackson died two weeks before his “This Is It” comeback concerts, organized by AEG Live, were to have debuted in London. The coroner ruled Jackson died from a fatal combination of sedatives and propofol, a surgical anesthetic that Murray told investigators he used to put Jackson to sleep almost every night in the month before his death.

The Jacksons argue that AEG executives knew about the star’s weakened health and his past use of dangerous drugs while on tour. They’re liable in his death because they pressured Jackson and the doctor to meet their ambitious schedule to prepare for the London shows despite that knowledge, their lawyers contend.

A cornerstone of their case is an e-mail AEG Live Co-CEO Paul Gongaware wrote 11 days before Jackson’s death. The e-mail to show director Kenny Ortega addressed concerns that Murray had kept Jackson from a rehearsal the day before: “We want to remind (Murray) that it is AEG, not MJ, who is paying his salary. We want to remind him what is expected of him.”

Jackson lawyers argue the e-mail is evidence that AEG Live used Murray’s fear of losing his lucrative job as Jackson’s personal physician to pressure him to have Jackson ready for rehearsals despite his fragile health.

Gongaware, in a video deposition played in court Monday, said he could not remember writing the e-mail, which the Jackson lawyers call the “smoking gun” in their case.

“They put Dr. Murray in a position where if he said Michael can’t go or can’t play, if he said I can’t give you those drugs, then he doesn’t get paid,” Panish told jurors Monday.

Gongaware, who managed two of Jackson’s tours in the 1990s, knew that Jackson relied on addictive opiates during his concert tours, Panish said.

He played a video of one doctor who said he warned Gongaware about it in 1993.

“We felt that we needed to an intervention,” Dr. Stuart Finkelstein said. “We needed to do detox.”

AEG’s lawyer argued Monday that Gongaware and other AEG executives had no way of knowing about Jackson’s use of propofol to sleep.

“AEG knew nothing about this decade-long propofol use,” Putnam said. “They were a concert promoter. How could they know?”

He promised that Jackson’s ex-wife and mother of his two oldest children, Debbie Rowe, will testify that she assisted in administering propofol to Jackson in the 1990s when she was a nurse.

She saw several doctors put Mr. Jackson to sleep in hotel rooms while on tour,” he said, including in Munich, London, Paris.

“The truth is Mr. Jackson fooled everyone,” Putnam said about Jackson’s porpofol use. “He kept those who might have helped him at a distance and no one knew his deepest, darkest secret.”

Jackson’s ability to keep his private side private meant AEG could not see any red flags warning of Jackson’s destruction, Putnam said.

“They didn’t see this coming,” he said. “They had no idea.”

Putnam said Jackson family members will testify about their failed attempts at intervention and their lack of knowledge about what was happening.

“If they didn’t know what was going on, how could someone else think there was even a problem,” he said.

AEG contends that Jackson was responsible for his own demise, that he chose Murray to be his full-time doctor and that his drug addiction led him to a series of fatal choices.

“This case is about personal choices,” Putnam said. “People have responsibility for their personal choices. It was not a tragedy of AEG Live’s making.”

Murray was never an AEG employee but rather was chosen and paid by Jackson for nearly four years until Jackson died, AEG lawyers contend.

“AEG Live never paid Dr. Murray anything, ever,” Putnam said.

He played a snippet from Murray’s interview with Martinez two days after Jackson’s death.

“I am an employee for Michael Jackson but paid through AEG,” Murray told police.

Jackson, not AEG chose Murray, he said.

Child molestation accusations against Jackson, for which he was acquitted after a trial, are relevant because they resulted in an increase in his drug use, Putnam said.

He focused on Jackson’s doctor shopping for drugs, displaying a chart of 40 doctors and nurses who Jackson sought drugs from.

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Jackson’s family seeks billions

Just before Monday’s session began, the judge issued a series of rulings that will allow Jackson expert witnesses to testify but limit some of their opinions.

The lawsuit seeks a judgment against AEG Live equal to the money Jackson would have earned over the course of his remaining lifetime if he had not died in 2009. Jackson lawyers denied media reports that they were seeking $40 billion in damages if AEG Live is found liable, but it could cost the company several billion dollars, according to estimates of Jackson’s income potential.

AEG Live is a subsidiary of AEG, a global entertainment company that was up for sale recently with an $8 billion asking price.

Palazuelos reversed an earlier tentative decision Monday that would have limited the amount of damages the Jacksons could argue AEG should pay if found liable in the singer’s death.  The decision raises the potential damages by about $1 billion.

One of the Jacksons’ experts, certified pubic accountant Arthur Erk, estimated that Michael Jackson could have earned $1.4 billion by taking his “This Is It” tour around the world for 260 shows. AEG executives discussed extending the tour beyond the 50 shows scheduled for London, Jackson lawyers said.

Jackson lawyer Perry Sanders, in arguing for the judge to allow Erk’s testimony, said when “This Is It” tickets went on sale in March 2009, there was the “highest demand to see anyone in the history of the world. No one has ever come close.”

“There was so much demand, they filled 2 million seats in hours,” Sanders said, quoting an e-mail from AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips sent to AEG’s owner.

“We would have had to do 100-plus shows to fill the demand” in London, he said Phillips wrote. Jackson could have packed the Tokyo Dome several times in a world tour, he said.

But AEG lawyer Sabrina Strong called it “very speculative” that Jackson would have even finished the 50 London shows before dying.

AEG lawyers argued that Jackson didn’t perform 260 shows and make that much money even in his prime. “He never came anywhere close to that,” Strong said. “No one other than Cher has ever done that.”

Erk also calculated Jackson would have followed with four more world tours before he turned 65.

Palazuelos weighed in during a hearing on Thursday, noting that the Rolling Stones are still touring into their 70s.

The Jacksons will also try to convince jurors that he would have made a fortune off of a long series of Las Vegas shows, endorsements, a clothing line and movies.

Strong argued that Jackson had a history of failed projects and missed opportunities, calling Erk’s projections “a hope, a dream, and not a basis for damages.”

Erk, under the new ruling, will be able to tell jurors about the “loss of earning capacity” suffered by the family because of Jackson’s death.  This means the jury can consider the Jackson argument that he could have earned millions with a clothing line, endorsements and movies. The expert’s estimate that Jackson would have completed five world tours before he was 65, if he had lived, can also be considered.

AEG can argue, however, that Jackson’s past failures diminished the potential earnings.

None of the Jackson experts can offer an opinion on the question of whether Murray was hired by AEG.

The witness lists include many members of the Jackson family, including Katherine Jackson. Other celebrity witnesses on the list are Sharon Osbourne, Quincy Jones, Spike Lee, Ray Parker Jr., Lisa Marie Presley, Diana Ross and Lou Ferrigno.

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Michael Jackson family lawyer blasts tour promoter as trial opens

Katherine Jackson (L), mother of late pop star Michael Jackson, and her daughter Rebbie Jackson are pictured in a courtroom sketch at Katherine Jackson’s civil suit against concert promoter AEG Live in Los Angeles April 29, 2013.

Jackson family attorney Brian Panish is pictured in a courtroom sketch at Katherine Jackson’s civil suit against concert promoter AEG Live in Los Angeles

(Reuters) – Concert promoters AEG Live ignored red flags when it hired Dr. Conrad Murray to care for Michael Jackson, and should have been aware that the singer had addiction problems years before he agreed to perform a series of 2009 London comeback concerts, an attorney for Jackson’s family told a Los Angeles jury on Monday.

Making his opening statement in what is expected to be an emotional, three-month long civil wrongful death trial, attorney Brian Panish said a combination of factors caused Jackson’s death in June 2009 from an overdose.

“Michael Jackson, Dr. Conrad Murray and AEG Live each played a part in the ultimate result, the death of Michael Jackson,” said Panish who is representing the singer’s family.

The “Thriller” singer’s mother Katherine is suing privately-held AEG Live, promoters of the never-realized series of London concerts, for negligence in hiring Dr. Conrad Murray.

Murray, convicted in 2011 for the involuntary manslaughter of Jackson, was caring for the singer as he rehearsed in Los Angeles for the series of 50 “This is It” shows in London that were due to start in July 2009.

Panish said AEG Live failed to do proper background checks on Murray, who asked for $5 million (3.2 million pounds) to care for the singer. Background checks would have revealed Murray was deeply in debt and was a cardiologist even though Jackson had no known heart issues, Panish said.

“`When a red flag comes up, do you turn away or do you look into it?” Panish said. “AEG ignored the obvious red flags and they hired Dr. Murray.”

Katherine Jackson, 82, along with her children Randy and Rebbie, were among family members attending Monday’s packed opening of the trial. Jackson’s three children, who could be called as witnesses later, were not there.

Jackson, drowning in debt and seeking to rebuild a reputation damaged by his 2005 trial and acquittal on child molestation charges, died in Los Angeles of an overdose of the powerful surgical anaesthetic propofol, supplied by Murray, and a cocktail of other sedatives in June 2009. The singer was 50 when he died.


Panish said Jackson had known problems with prescription drug addiction dating back to his use of the painkiller Demerol following a burn injury when he was shooting a Pepsi commercial in 1984.

“It was widely publicized Michael was dependent on pain killers,” Panish said, adding that AEG Live should have been aware of the reports.

Jackson in 1993 announced he was cancelling a world tour to seek treatment for his painkiller addiction.

AEG Live contends that it did not hire or supervise Murray, saying that a proposed contract with him was never executed. The concert promoters also have said they could not have foreseen that Murray posed a danger to Jackson.

Attorneys for AEG Live will make their opening statements later on Monday.

In the days before the trial began, Panish denied the Jackson family is seeking $40 billion in damages from AEG Live, as some media had reported this month.

The final amount will be determined by the jury should it hold AEG Live liable for negligence.

A handful of Jackson fans gathered outside the court on Monday, saying they were hoping for justice for the “King of Pop.”

Jackson fan Julia Thomas, 40, an office worker from Colton, southern California, said she hoped the trial would demonstrate what she said were the wrongs AEG Live committed against Jackson and the demands they placed on him.

“They’re about to be exposed because they bullied Michael, they stressed him into the grave to the point that he needed sedatives to sleep,” Thomas told Reuters.

(Editing by Jill Serjeant, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)

 Opening statements began Monday in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial filed against concert promoter AEG.

Members of the Jackson family arrived at the downtown Los Angeles court house as the late pop star’s life and death rose to the spotlight once again. Jackson’s mother, Katherine, wants a jury to hold concert promoter AEG responsible for her son’s death.

The singer’s struggle against drug addiction was put on display Monday in the wrongful death case.

Brian Panish, the attorney for Katherine Jackson and Michael’s children, told the jury about evidence that AEG officials knew for decades about Jackson’s struggles with meds, but instead of helping him, they hired Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray was not a pain management specialist but a cardiologist whose home was in foreclosure, owed child support and allegedly was denied privileges at Houston hospital for patient care issues.

While AEG could have hired someone else, the plaintiffs say that only money-strapped Murray would provide Jackson with the drugs the pop start demanded.

AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam used the defense that Jackon was an addict.

“No one knew about Propofol, not his mother, not his children, not the staff working at his house, certainly not the tour promoters,” he said.

Putnam went on to portray the case as one of personal choice, that Jackson was responsible for his own death.

“MJ fooled everybody. He made sure no one, nobody, knew his deepest dark secret,” he said.

The trial, which will last for months, is expected to reveal details of Jackson’s private life and his medical history including his prescription drug abuse. Information from his medical records have remained sealed until now.

Jackson’s past legal troubles are also expected to take center stage.

Tom Mesereau represented Jackson in his 2004-2005 child sex abuse trial. Mesereau says if he is called to the witness stand, he will testify that Jackson was exonerated from all molestation charges and that those charges did not diminish Jackson’s reputation.

“They want to try and say his reputation was diminished,” said Edwards. “If that’s true, why did they enter into a business contract with him? And why did they invest $30 million in him before the concerts even began?”

Katherine Jackson and her three children are suing AEG for billions of dollars, alleging that AEG was negligent when hiring Conrad Murray as Jackson’s personal physician.

Katherine Jackson alleges that AEG failed to properly investigate Murray and also put pressure on him to perform.

Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death. Murray had administered drugs to Jackson repeatedly to help him sleep as the singer prepared for the concerts.

AEG contends that it did not hire Murray and could not have foreseen the singer’s death. The trial will address issues about Jackson’s health and finances, which were not factors in Murray’s criminal trial.

Mesereau says he believes the defense has an uphill battle.

“If you look at those emails where they acknowledge they’re paying his doctor, they acknowledge that he better perform even if he’s not well,” said Mesereau. “I think the defense has a real uphill battle. I think that sympathy is going to be with Katherine and Michael’s three children.”

Other legal analysts say that proving the allegations made by Katherine Jackson may be difficult.

“Dr. Murray was a doctor that Michael Jackson had a prior relationship with and that Michael Jackson was the one that was instrumental in getting Dr. Murray hired by AEG or in essence really paid by AEG,” said Edwards.

A jury of six men and six women will listen to several months of testimony before deciding if AEG Live, one of the world’s largest entertainment companies, should pay Jackson’s mother and his three children billions of dollars for its liability in the pop star’s death.

Katherine Jackson and the singer’s three children are suing AEG in excess of $50 million each for general damages and $10 million each for special damages, making a possible payout in the billions.

Lawyers for Katherine Jackson argue that if Michael Jackson had lived he could potentially have earned that much.

The first witness is expected to take the stand Tuesday. Jackson’s two oldest children, Paris and Prince, may testify. Celebrities, such as Diana Ross, Spike Lee and Quincy Jones, are also listed as potential witnesses. It is unclear who will take the stand first.

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