LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A hearing on at least one final pretrial motion is scheduled today in a lawsuit by Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, contending that the promoters of her son’s never-realized London concerts negligently hired Dr. Conrad Murray as the singer’s personal physician.
Both CNN and NBC are asking Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos to reconsider her March 7 denial of a CNN motion to televise the trial. The preliminary stage of jury selection will follow as prospective panel members are interviewed about their ability to serve on a trial expected to last two to three months.
On March 1, Palazuelos pared the case, tossing aside all other claims that could hold AEG Live liable for Jackson’s death. Defense attorneys had moved for dismissal of the entire complaint, saying that two years of litigation failed to show the company or its executives did anything wrong.
The entertainer was set to perform a string of 50 shows dubbed “This Is It,” but the 50-year-old pop legend died on June 25, 2009, at age 50, of acute propofol intoxication at his rented home in Holmby Hills while rehearsing for the concert series.
The 82-year-old Jackson family matriarch sued in September 2010 on behalf of herself and her son’s three children, Michael Jr., Paris-Michael Katherine and Prince Michael, claiming that the company picked Murray to be Jackson’s personal physician.
Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death and was sentenced in November 2011 to four years in the Los Angeles County men’s jail.
AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam maintained his clients never hired Murray and that the cardiologist, in fact, had been one of many doctors who had treated the singer in the past. Putnam also said Jackson had a drug problem for years before he entered into any agreements to perform on behalf of AEG Live.
Putnam maintained that a proposed contract between Murray and AEG Live was never executed before Jackson’s death. However, Palazuelos found that a contract could be implied by various actions taken by the company, including discussions to pay him $150,000 a month.
Attorneys for the Jacksons maintain that AEG Live, in allegedly hiring Murray, gave little consideration to red flags showing that the doctor was in debt and was not a board-certified cardiologist.
Palazuelos dismissed Timothy Leiweke, AEG Inc.’s former president and chief executive officer, and that company as defendants. But her final ruling kept Paul Gongaware, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Concerts West (a division of AEG Live) and AEG Live President and Chief Executive Officer Brandon Phillips in the case.
Gongaware stated in a sworn declaration that he never told Jackson or any of his doctors what medications the singer should take.
“At no point did I ever require Jackson to take propofol,” Gongaware stated. “I had no idea Jackson was taking propofol until after I learned how Jackson died in press reports. I had no suspicious whatsoever that Dr. Murray was giving Jackson propofol.”
But the Jackson attorneys point to an email Gongaware penned less than two weeks before Jackson died to tour director Kenny Ortega after the latter expressed 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,” Gongaware wrote. “We want to remind him what is expected of him.”
AEG Live is owned by Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz. Putnam represented another Anschutz entity, Crusader Entertainment, in a lawsuit by Clive Cussler. The adventure writer maintained in the January 2004 complaint that the studio breached a contract by not giving him final say on the script for the film version of his book “Sahara.”
In May 2007, a jury rejected Cussler’s claims and instead awarded $5 million to Crusader, which argued that Cussler breached a contract in his dealings with the production company, in part by criticizing the movie in the media.
The Jacksons’ lead attorney, Brian Panish, has won numerous high-profile civil cases. He recently obtained a jury verdict of $8.3 on behalf of Loren Kransky in a first-in-the nation trial against DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. The panel found the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary was negligent and produced a device with a defective design when it put the ASR XL hip implant device on the market.