May 23, 2013
By BILL HETHERMAN
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Testifying in trial of a negligence/wrongful death suit against AEG Live over the death of Michael Jackson, the top lawyer for the concert promoter acknowledged this week that its CEO publicly said the company hired Dr. Conrad Murray to be the singer's personal physician.
Shawn Trell, the entertainment conglomerate's general counsel, said under questioning by Jackson family attorney Brian Panish that Brandon Phillips made the remark shortly before the entertainer's death during a media interview
with the AEG Live logo in the background.
``I know he made that statement, yes,'' Trell said on his second day on the stand.
Under further questioning by Panish, Trell confirmed Phillips sent, ``This Is It Tour'' director Kenny Ortega, an email five days before the singer died, in which he said Ortega should not worry about Murray's credentials because the physician was ``extremely successful'' and ``does not need this gig,'' referring to Murray's selection as Jackson's personal doctor while the entertainer toured.
Ortega had written AEG executives days before Jackson's death expressing concern about the singer's health and ability to rehearse.
Asked by Panish why Phillips would make such laudatory remarks about Murray given that Trell had testified that AEG Live does not do background checks on independent contractors like the cardiologist, Trell answered, ``I don't know where (Phillips') expression or intention comes from.''
Trell suggested Panish ask Phillips the same question. But Panish continued to press Trell for answers, at one point asking, ``You didn't want Mr. Jackson to die, did you?'' Trell replied, ''Nobody did, sir.''
Lawyers for 83-year-old Katherine Jackson, who filed the lawsuit in 2010 on behalf of herself and her late son's three children, allege that AEG Live hired Murray to care for the singer and failed to supervise him properly.
AEG Live attorneys maintain that Jackson hired Murray in 2006 as his personal physician and chose him to be his doctor during his ``This Is It Tour.'' Jackson was rehearsing for 50 sold-out concerts in London at the time of his overdose death at age 50.
Panish showed Trell copies of emails between various AEG Live executives discussing Jackson's health in the days before his death. During previous trial testimony, witnesses said Jackson had a bad rehearsal day on June 19,
2009, that prompted the AEG hierarchy to call for a meeting with the singer and Murray the next day.
In one email, Phillips wrote then-AEG Inc. President and CEO Timothy Leiweke stating, ``We have a problem here.''
Asked by Panish if that raised a red flag in his mind, Trell answered, ``I think he (Phillips) realized there was a problem on the 19th. I would take it seriously as I believe Mr. Phillips did.''
However, Trell added, ``I don't think I need to use the word red flag.''
Panish also displayed for the jury a copy of an email from then-Jackson attorney John Branca to Phillips saying he knew a ``therapist, spiritual adviser and substance abuse counselor'' who would help Jackson. Branca -- now
one of two executors of Jackson's estate -- wrote that the person had once helped boxer Mike Tyson.
In yet another email, Paul Gongaware, co-CEO of Concerts West, a division of AEG Live, told Phillips, ``I'm not sure what the problem is, psychological or physiological.''
In another development, Trell said he erred Monday when he testified that Ortega's contract with AEG Live was based solely on a series of emails. He said Ortega actually had a formal agreement.
Murray was convicted in 2011 of involuntary manslaughter for giving the singer the anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid and was sentenced to four years