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Expert fined for contempt in Conrad Murray trial

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 4:42 PM EST, Wed November 16, 2011
Dr. Paul White, an expert witness in the Conrad Murray trial, has 30 days to pay a $250 fine for contempt of court.
Dr. Paul White, an expert witness in the Conrad Murray trial, has 30 days to pay a $250 fine for contempt of court.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Defense lawyer: Dr. Murray should get early release if sentenced to prison
  • Dr. Paul White has 30 days to pay a $250 contempt fine
  • The prosecutor argues the defense anesthesiology expert tried to 'sabotage' the trial
  • A contempt charge relating to White calling another witness a "scumbag" is dropped

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The defense anesthesiology expert in the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor was found in contempt of court Wednesday for referring to his private talks with Dr. Conrad Murray during his testimony.

Dr. Murray did not testify in his own defense in his involuntary manslaughter trial and the judge refused to allow Dr. Paul White to base any of his testimony on anything other than what Murray told police.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor gave Dr. White 30 days to pay a $250 fine, but he also dropped a second contempt citation for derogatory comments he allegedly made about a rival witness.

Wednesday's contempt hearing was part of the aftermath of Dr. Murray's involuntary manslaughter that ended with a guilty verdict last week.

Another contempt hearing is set for November 29, the day Murray is set to be sentenced, for one of the defense lawyers who allegedly violated the judge's gag order by speaking to NBC's "Today Show" during the trial.

Murray defense lawyer Michael Flanagan, who was in court to defend Dr. White Wednesday, said after the hearing that he believed Murray should be eligible for early release if he is given prison time.

A California law that took effect last month provides for non-violent state inmates to be assigned to county jails to relieve state prison overcrowding. The Los Angeles County jail has a court-ordered early release program to relieve overcrowding, which allows non-violent offenders to serve much of their sentences at home with electronic monitoring.

Flanagan said Murray is not a safety threat to the public and should be included in the early release program.

Dr. White told reporters after the hearing that he still believed Jackson gave himself the overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol and a sedative the coroner ruled killed the pop icon.

"I was aware that Michael Jackson had self-administered drugs in the past, propofol specifically, and so what's to say that he wouldn't do it again," White said. "He was desperate. Murray was withholding from him the drug that he desperately desired."

White, while under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney David Walgren, referred several times to his private discussions with Dr. Murray about what happened the day Jackson died. Judge Pastor repeatedly warned him not to do so.

Finally, the judge cited White for contempt and set Wednesday's hearing to decide if he would be fined.

"There wasn't any intentional deception here or violation of the court order," defense lawyer Michael Flanagan told Pastor Wednesday. "He was explaining to Mr. Walgren 'Hey, I can't answer that.'"

Prosecutor Walgren, who has grown a beard since the televised trial ended, told the judge that this was one of "multiple instances" where Dr. White was "trying to sabotage the trial."

"It was intentional and deliberate," Walgren said. "It was an attempt to deny the people a fair trial."

White told the judge he "did my best as I was admonished by you to answer question truthfully and as completely as I could."

"I apologize profusely if I disrespected you," White said. "I learned a lot from this experience."

Pastor ruled that White was guilty of violating his order by giving "a non-responsive answer" that dealt with "no-go territory."

While he could have fined him $1,000, he only imposed a $250 fine. Judge Pastor also dropped the other contempt charge which stemmed from an online report that quoted White allegedly calling prosecution anesthesiology expert Dr. Steven Shafer "a scumbag."

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