Business News Jacksons v AEG Timeline Legal Live Business

“I know this statement is not accurate”: Jacksons v AEG update

By | Published on Wednesday 22 May 2013

Michael Jackson

AEG Live did not conduct any background checks on Michael Jackson’s chosen personal doctor Conrad Murray, the live firm’s General Counsel told the LA court yesterday, even though the company’s President Randy Phillips assured those concerned for the life of the late king of pop shortly before his death that the medic’s assurances that all was OK should be accepted because “this doctor is extremely successful – we check everyone out”.

Shawn Trell was the second AEG executive to take to the stand in the Jacksons v AEG Live court case. As much previously reported, the Jackson family claims that the live music giant should be held liable for Michael Jackson’s untimely demise because it hired Murray, the doctor convicted for causing the singer’s death through negligent treatment. AEG counters that while it may have paid Murray’s bills, it didn’t actually employ the negligent doc.

The status of Murray’s business relationship with AEG is key to the case, and has been the main focus of court proceedings since executives from the company – legal guy Trell was preceded by finance exec Julie Hollander – started to be questioned.

For the Jacksons, AEG’s budget spreadsheets are key here, because they listed the $150,000 a month being paid to Murray as a ‘production expense’, rather than as an ‘advance’ to Jackson with which he could pay the doctor, even though the live firm had earlier insisted Murray was paid by the singer direct with advances provided by the company. If Murray was a production expense, AEG arguably had more of an obligation to manage him.

Trell said that the listing of the monies that would pay Murray’s fees as a production expense was simply a mistake, made by the firm’s Chief Financial Officer, even though he was, said Trell, usually “a very detailed-oriented guy”.

Trell also had to admit to making a mistake himself in an earlier part of his testimony this week. As part of the debate over the nature of Murray’s relationship with the live firm, the Jackson family’s legal team questioned Trell about the company’s contractual agreement with Kenny Ortega, the director of the ill-fated AEG-promoted ‘This Is It’ show Jackson was preparing for at the time of his death.

Initially Trell told the court that Ortega did not actually have a formal contract with AEG for ‘This Is It’, rather the terms of the director’s role on the project were agreed through a series of emails. But when returning to the witness stand yesterday Trell had to admit that he had got that wrong, and those emails had resulted in a more formal contract.

Back to the background checks, or lack thereof, into Murray when Jackson requested he be his personal medic for the duration of the ‘This Is It’ venture. Trell said that he wouldn’t usually expect his company to investigate the people it hired to work on its projects, except where they may have a financial role.

While such a policy may seem careless – though possibly only with hindsight – it’s arguably important to AEG that the company can demonstrate that it was wholly ignorant of the ways Murray was treating Jackson in 2009, and of why Jackson may have been motivated to hire the doctor in the first place (ie for a ready supply to the prescription medications he desired), and why Murray may have been prone to put ethics aside to prescribe such drugs (ie his dire financial situation and the money to be made by keeping Jackson on side).

After all, we know that various concerns were raised about Jackson’s health in the weeks before his death by people working on ‘This Is It’ – some of whom appeared in court earlier this month during the second phase of testimonies to say so – and Ortega communicated those concerns to AEG management. And Trell himself conceded in court that he was aware of what ‘This Is It’ production staff were saying regarding Jackson’s condition in June 2009.

But Phillips then met with Jackson and Murray, and accepted their assurances that all was fine. Doing so would have been negligent, except for his ignorance of just how much both men needed the ‘This Is It’ venture to succeed, and the lengths they were planning to go to in order to get Jackson on stage.

But why did Phillips, when reporting back to concerned members of the ‘This Is It’ production team, assure them that Murray’s word that all was fine was credible, because “this doctor is extremely successful – we check everyone out – and he does not need this gig so he [is] totally unbiased and ethical”.

That statement was a “flat out lie” the Jackson family’s legal rep suggested when questioning Trell yesterday. According to CNN the AEG lawyer responded: “I know this statement is not accurate, but you’d have to speak with Mr Phillips about what he thought or meant in saying it”.

The case continues. Meanwhile the Jackson family’s legal team will be busy going through a load of emails belonging to Michael Jackson’s on-again-off-again manager Frank DiLeo, who was managing the singer’s affairs as the ‘This Is It’ venture got underway.

DiLeo died in August 2011, but the Jackson family have been keen to see his emails to ascertain what his relationship with AEG was like as the ‘This Is It’ project began, and whether he put pressure onto Murray to get Jackson on stage ‘whatever it takes’ and, if so, whether he did this after being put under pressure himself by AEG management.

DiLeo’s widow, with AEG’s support, initially tried to block access to the emails and, after a court ruled that the Jackson family should be able to see them, then claimed they had been lost. It then transpired that the DiLeo estate’s former lawyer had a back up, but there were legal problems with him handing them over, until the manager’s widow reappointed said lawyer, allowing him to share any correspondence relevant to the case.

It remains to be seen if any of those emails now prove key as the Jackson family further their arguments against AEG Live in court.