May 30, 2013
By LINDA DEUTSCH | Associated Press
A top executive of the company that was producing Michael Jackson's "This Is It" tour acknowledged reluctantly Tuesday that he negotiated a deal for the doctor that the pop star had chosen to accompany him.
But AEG Live executive Paul Gongaware testified his only role in the matter was negotiating the price of Dr. Conrad Murray's services in compliance with what Jackson asked him to do.
Gongaware said that neither he nor anyone at the entertainment giant investigated Murray's background or credentials.
"The fact that he had been Michael Jackson's personal physician for three years was good enough for me," Gongaware said.
Gongaware, the Co-CEO of AEG Live, testified in the Los Angeles trial as a hostile witness called by lawyers for Jackson's mother in her negligent-hiring lawsuit.
He came under aggressive examination by plaintiff's attorney Brian Panish on whether AEG or Jackson was responsible for hiring Murray, who was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the superstar's death.
Jackson died in 2009 after being given a powerful anesthetic.
Asked if he knew that Murray was in financial difficulties when he took the job as tour doctor, Gongaware answered no.
He said that Murray initially asked for $5 million to travel to London with Jackson and tend to him during the tour.
"I just told him it wasn't going to happen," he said, recalling that Jackson then suggested offering him $150,000 a month.
"Michael Jackson insisted on it and recommended him and it was not for me to tell him no," said Gongaware, who is a defendant in the multibillion-dollar lawsuit.
"I wanted to provide what was necessary for him to do his job...He wanted a doctor and I wanted him to be healthy."
Even after the offer of $150,000, Murray wasn't satisfied.
"He started saying he wanted more and I said, 'The offer is coming directly from the artist," Gongaware said.
Minutes later, he said Murray accepted.
"Did that seem desperate to you?" asked Panish.
"No," said Gongaware. "He just accepted Michael's offer."
During Tuesday's court session, Katherine Jackson was accompanied to court by her singing star daughter Janet who sat beside her for the first half of the day. Later, her sister, Rebbie took the seat.
Gongaware often pleaded poor memory of events. He said he may have met with Jackson as many as 10 times, but could remember only two of the meetings and only one when Murray was present.
Prodded by Panish, he remembered a meeting at which Jackson arrived late from a doctor's appointment and had slurred speech.
"He was a bit off," he said, "that was the only time I saw him like that."
At the heart of the case is who hired Murray. At first, Gongaware insisted he did no negotiating with Murray, but, confronted with emails and his previous testimony, he changed his position and said, "The only thing I did with Dr. Murray was negotiate a price."
He indicated that he was so shocked by Murray's demand that he consulted a doctor friend to see what he would charge for the same job. The other doctor said he would have gone on tour for $10,000 a week.
"Did you ever convey that to Michael Jackson?" asked Panish.
"I don't recall," said Gongaware whose testimony was peppered with that phrase.