AEG accuses the Jacksons of leaking e-mails in violation of the judge's order
"It is clear that only one entity could have done it," AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam says
The e-mails reveal AEG had doubts about Jackson's health months before his death
"He has accused 10-year-old Blanket Jackson," Jackson lawyer Kevin Boyle says
Michael Jackson’s mother sat quietly in court on Wednesday watching as her lawyers fought loudly with attorneys for AEG, the concert promoter she accuses of contributing to the pop star’s death.
They argued over who leaked e-mails to a reporter that revealed the promoter had doubts about Jackson’s health and his ability to be ready for his “This Is It” concerts several months before his death.
“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent,” AEG executive Randy Phillips wrote in a March 5, 2009, e-mail, the day Jackson announced the tour plans. “I (am) trying to sober him up.”
The judge must decide if she will exclude those e-mails from the wrongful-death suit filed by Katherine Jackson and her son’s three children against AEG.
Jackson died of an overdose of a surgical anesthesia in combination with sedatives on June 25, 2009, according the the Los Angeles County coroner. Dr. Conrad Murray, who was hired to be Jackson’s personal physician as he prepared for the shows, was found guilty last year of involuntary manslaughter in his death.
The Jackson suit contends that AEG contributed to the pop star’s death by pressuring him to prepare even though the promoters knew he was in a weak condition and by its hiring and supervision of Dr. Murray.
The judge overseeing the case sealed those documents. AEG filed a motion accusing the Jacksons and their lawyers of leaking them to Los Angeles Times reporter Harriett Ryan, who used them for a story she published in September.
“It is clear that only one entity could have done it,” AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam said. The cache of e-mails, which the reporter shared with AEG, have “certain unique characteristics” that prove they were given to the Jackson lawyers by AEG as part of discovery in the wrongful-death lawsuit, Putnam said.
AEG asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos to punish the Jacksons by not allowing them to use those e-mails in next year’s trial when they try to prove the promoter is liable for Michael Jackson’s death.
“He has accused 10-year-old Blanket Jackson,” Jackson lawyer Kevin Boyle said, pointing to Putnam. “What’s the idea, that Blanket Jackson got some documents and copied them and somehow walked them from Calabasas to Harriet Ryan?”
Jackson lawyers denied anyone associated with their legal team or their clients leaked the e-mails, even suggesting AEG lawyers may have done it themselves as a set up.
“They could have easily disclosed all of these documents with zero punishment from the court,” Boyle said.
Ryan has refused to disclose her sources, although Howard Mann – who was once Katherine Jackson’s former partner in a book venture – has acknowledged that he gave the reporter a box of documents for her story.
Days after the e-mails were published, AEG dropped its claim against a Lloyds of London underwriter for a $17.5 million insurance policy for Michael Jackson.
The insurer contended AEG hid Jackson’s health problems and failed to respond to repeated requests for his medical history when applying for insurance for the 50 shows scheduled for London’s O2 Arena.
The Michael Jackson estate, which controls Michael Jackson Company LLC, is still pursuing the insurance payout.
Perry Sanders, who is Katherine Jackson’s personal attorney, told the judge that the Jacksons had no motive to leak the e-mails.
“Like we would go and blow up our own case against Lloyds of London?” Sanders said. “Our client and all the plaintiffs in this case are actually the ones who would receive the money.”
Sanders also noted that AEG had failed to disclose the e-mails to the Lloyds of London lawyers despite a legal requirement to do so.
While publication of the e-mails might have made AEG look bad, they were “extremely negative against Michael Jackson,” painting him “as a basket case,” Jackson lawyer Deborah Chang said.
“It’s much more negative about Michael Jackson than it is about AEG, by far,” Chang said.
The Jackson lawyers accused AEG of using the e-mail issue as a way to delay the wrongful-death trial.
“They’ve been very successful in tying us up completely and I am sure they are giggling about it back in the office,” Boyle said.
AEG previously convinced the judge to delay the trial, which was set for last month, until next April.
“This case is so strong that we very stringently argued this case should have gone to trial in September,” Sanders said. “The only people that seem to be trying to keep this case from going forward are the defendants.”
The anger and passion between the six Jackson lawyers and AEG’s Putnam was evident with personal charges of bad ethics flying from both sides in court Wednesday.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my career,” Jackson lawyer Brian Panish said. “They think they can just smirk around and make these defamatory statements without evidence.”
The documents made public in the Times story are not the most damaging to AEG that were uncovered, Boyle told CNN.
“We can assure you that we are in possession of documents that make for an extremely compelling story in the wrongful-death case, and that completely support the plaintiffs’ claims,” he said.
It was unusual for the 82-year-old Katherine Jackson to attend such a hearing, suggesting the case is also very personal for her.
The revelations from the leaked e-mails including one written by Randy Phillips weeks after Jackson’s death in which the president of AEG Live – the concert-promotion branch of AEG – called it “a terrible tragedy,” but adding “but life must go on.”
“AEG will make a fortune from merch sales, ticket retention, the touring exhibition and the film/dvd,” Phillips wrote. In fact, AEG Live was allowed to sell Jackson tour merchandise and share in the profits from the documentary “This Is It,” produced from rehearsal video.
The e-mails suggest AEG Live’s president saw Jackson’s problems first-hand the day the pop star was to appear at the O2 Arena to publicly announce the shows.
“MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent,” Phillips wrote in the March 5, 2009, e-mail to AEG Live’s parent company, the paper reported. “I (am) trying to sober him up.”
“I screamed at him so loud the walls are shaking,” Phillips wrote. “He is an emotionally paralyzed mess riddled with self-loathing and doubt now that it is show time.”
The promoter blamed London traffic when Jackson was 90 minutes late for the announcement that day.
“He’s as healthy as he can be – no health problems whatsoever,” Phillips told CNN two months later to refute reports Jackson’s health was threatening the concerts.
The Los Angeles Times story, however, said the e-mails indicated major doubts about Jackson’s ability to perform.
“We cannot be forced into stopping this, which MJ will try to do because he is lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants,” AEG Live executive Paul Gongaware e-mailed to Phillips.
Jackson’s missed rehearsals in June triggered concerns in e-mails that he was slow in learning his dance routines and would have to lip-sync on stage, the newspaper reported.
“MJ is not in shape enough yet to sing this stuff live and dance at the same time,” one e-mail from the show’s music director read, the paper reported.
A production manager wrote: “He was a basket case. Doubt is pervasive.”
A loud warning from show director Kenny Ortega, who worked closely with Jackson on previous tours, came in mid-June, just over a week before his death. Ortega wrote to Phillips that Jackson had “strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior” and suggesting they bring a “top psychiatrist in to evaluate him ASAP.”
“It is like there are two people there. One (deep inside) trying to hold on to what he was and still can be and not wanting us to quit him, the other in this weakened and troubled state,” Ortega wrote. “I believe we need professional guidance in this matter.”
Ortega testified at Murray’s trial about his concerns about Jackson’s frail condition and missed rehearsals. It resulted in a meeting six days before Jackson’s death in which Murray assured the promoters he would have Jackson ready for rehearsals that next week.
An e-mail from Phillips after that meeting said he had confidence in Murray “who I am gaining immense respect for as I get to deal with him more.”
“This doctor is extremely successful (we check everyone out) and does not need this gig, so he (is) totally unbiased and ethical,” Phillips’ e-mail said.