There have been the usual selection of pop beefs this week, but surely none so beefy as the Jacksons v AEG Live trial, already a contender for Beef Of The Year, which finally got underway on Monday.
The premise of the trial is simple: Michael Jackson’s family say that, as the promoter of his ill-fated ‘This Is It’ shows at London’s O2 Arena, AEG Live is liable for Michael Jackson’s death in 2009. The company, say the Jacksons, hired Conrad Murray, the doctor subsequently found guilty of causing the singer’s death through negligence, and was ultimately in charge of him. The promoter, they add, was also well aware of Jackson’s ill health and drug dependencies but ignored them for the sake of profit.
But AEG Live says that while it paid Murray’s fees, it was Jackson who hired and managed the doctor and the company itself was not aware of the dangerous treatments Murray was administering until it was too late and the singer was dead.
The Jacksons say that AEG Live should pay damages of billions to make up for lost earnings and the emotional distress of Jackson’s children. AEG Live says such a claim is “ludicrous”.
We may only be a few days into a trial that is expected to last months, but the lawyers are already talking tough, with the sort of brutal honesty that could well damage the reputations of both sides. For their part, AEG’s lawyers seem set to analyse Jackson’s drug dependencies in great detail, while the pop family’s reps reckon they have emails that will show just how “ruthless” top execs at the live music giant really were.
And proving that this wasn’t going to be a court battle hindered by polite niceties, on day two the question was raised as to why exactly Michael Jackson’s various famous siblings needed to be in the courtroom as the case proceeded. His mother Katherine is the plaintiff you see, not Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Randy or Janet. And, according to CNN, Team AEG reckoned that there was “a risk in allowing any of them in the courtroom”, because their presence might influence the jury. Somehow.
The Jackson family’s lawyers countered that it might be nice for the 82 year old Katherine to have the support of her children during something as traumatic as this court case. Looking for compromise, the judge ruled on Tuesday that one Jackson sibling could accompany their mother at any one time in court, but only one. And if Katherine chose to leave the courtroom – as she did during a paramedic’s testimony this week – then whichever Jackson was with her, this time Randy, would also have to step outside.
Back in the courtroom lawyers for each side sparred on what outsiders might consider some pretty petty points, not least whether or not Michael Jackson was actually dead. Reps for the Jackson family put this question on the agenda because, it transpired, AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam had been unwilling to agree on the point in a pre-trail hearing; not because the live firm has hired a mad conspiracy theorist to fight its corner, but because the attorney was wary of conceding any points that would “prove the opposing case”.
But when the question was raised by Jackson lawyer Brian Panish once again this week, Putnam reluctantly went on record as confirming that – as far as AEG is concerned – Michael Jackson is definitely no longer of this world. Though on whether or not Dr Conrad Murray caused the singer’s death, as the criminal courts have ruled, Putnam remained non-committal. “That you’ve never asked before” he said. “Let me look at what that means”.
It’s exchanges like this that should ensure this trial will likely see out the summer.