When last we looked in on the ongoing Jacksons v AEG Live court case over a week ago, the live music giant’s President Randy Phillips was in the witness stand, and he’s only just stepped down, after a mammoth eight days of bickering with the Jackson family’s legal reps.
At one point judge Yvette Palazuelos admonished the AEG exec for being tetchy and evasive, pointing out that his approach was making his testimony last much longer than would otherwise be necessary, while adding, according to CNN: “You give an answer, and you’re not answering the question, the jury is going to get the impression that you’re being evasive”. Phillips told the judge “I realise that”.
As much previously reported, the Jackson family reckon AEG, as promoters of the late king of pop’s ill-fated ‘This Is It’ venture, should be held liable for the death of the singer in 2009, because they paid and managed Dr Conrad Murray, the doctor convicted for causing the pop star’s death through negligent treatment.
AEG failed to check Murray’s credentials and ignored various red flags about Jackson’s health, the Jackson family argues, and put pressure on the doctor to get the singer on stage whatever it took. But AEG counters that Jackson himself hired and managed Murray, and that its executives could not have known about the medic’s dangerous treatments.
Much of the questioning over Phillips’ eight days in the stand focused on the weeks before the London launch of the ‘This Is It’ venture in March 2009, and the weeks prior to Jackson’s demise on 25 Jun that year. And as with all their questioning of AEG staff, the Jackson legal team seemed keen to highlight inconsistencies in past statements, and all and any warning signs that were allegedly ignored.
AEG’s lawyers counter that all that is irrelevant in ascertaining whether or not the live firm had any power or influence over Murray, which the company says it did not. Though Phillips himself also introduced a new line of argument to counter the Jackson clan’s claims, that the ghost of the late king of pop has confirmed himself that neither AEG nor Murray was liable for his death.
But first, back to the palaver that occurred in London before the ‘This Is It’ show was first announced in March 2009. The AEG boss admitted in court that he first feared Jackson might pull out of the live venture almost as soon as he had signed his deal with the live giant, making the London launch crucial, because in theory it would be much harder for the star to bail once the project was public.
“I was worried that we would have a mess [and] his career would be over”, Phillips admitted in court last week. “There were a lot of things I was worried about”.
Demonstrating that the ‘get it announced quick’ strategy was real, the Jackson legal team presented yet another email from spring 2009, in which previous witness Paul Gongaware told Phillips, “Once we go on sale, which we have the right to do, he is locked”.
The London launch was full of drama, of course. We’d already seen the email from the scene in which Phillips reported to overall AEG boss Tim Leiweke that, just as their star was due to head to The O2 to announce ‘This Is It, “MJ is locked in his room drunk and despondent”.
More emails between Phillips and Leiweke from that day expanded on the scene. “I screamed at him so loud the walls were shaking”, Phillips wrote to his boss. “[Jackson's manager] Tohme and I have dressed him, and they are finishing his hair, and then we are rushing to The O2. This is the scariest thing I have ever seen. He’s an emotionally paralyzed mess, filled with self-loathing and doubt now that it is show time. He is scared to death. Right now I just want to get through this press conference”.
In an email to another colleague revealed in court last week, Phillips said he had put Jackson into a cold shower, in a desperate bid to get him ready for the press launch, and “just slapped him and screamed at him”. Though in court the AEG prez played down that particular email, telling the jury, “I slapped him on the butt like what a football coach would do to a player”.
While all this occurred, Jackson’s fans over at The O2 waited patiently for their hero to arrive and announce whatever it was he was going to announce. Though Phillips reckons that, actually, in the end it all turned out OK. “In an odd way, it created more anticipation”, he testified, “and made it a bigger event, as people doubted whether or not it was going to happen”.
Once at The O2, Jackson uttered just a few sentences to his waiting fans, words Phillips says he wrote as the pair made their way to the stage, only realising at the last minute that the singer hadn’t prepared any kind of speech. But at least the initiative had been announced, and – according to Gongaware’s logic – the singer was now publicly committed to the project.
Though concerns clearly remained in the AEG camp as preparations for ‘This Is It’ went through the motions, not least when staff started reporting “trouble at the front”. Indeed, so concerned was Phillips about the number of Jackson no-shows at rehearsals in the weeks before the singer’s death, further email exchanges show the live firm was considering withholding cash advances to the star, who, Phillips reckoned, might be “in an anticipatory breach” of his contract.
Concerns were also being expressed at the live giant about Dr Arnold Klein, the dermatologist and long term ally of Jackson who the singer was still visiting, despite having Murray as his personal medic. In the ever mounting pile of emails presented by the Jackson legal team, one was between Phillips and one of Jackson’s business managers, Michael Kane, discussing Klein’s bills.
“He scares us to death because he is shooting him up with something”, Phillips said to Kane. The business manager responded: “Since we owe him $48K and he wants payment, maybe I should stop paying him so he would stop shooting him up”. Lawyers for Conrad Murray tried to raise the drugs Klein was providing to Jackson in his criminal case, though the judge there said the other doctor’s actions were irrelevant, because none of those medications were in the singer’s system at the time of his death.
Though here, for the Jacksons’ legal team, what’s important is that Phillips was expressing concerns, back in 2009, regards the singer’s access to different medications. Even though he and other AEG execs have, in the main, pleaded ignorance (prior to his death) of the star’s drug dependencies which, the Jacksons say, were a reason why the live giant should have been keeping a closer eye on Murray.
But, said Phillips last week, even if he expressed some concerns about the singer’s healthcare, he didn’t really have any actual knowledge of what the problems were in spring 2009, and as Jackson’s promoter, he didn’t really have any right to know the specifics of the star’s health and treatments. And, after all, Murray “pretty much assured us that Michael Jackson was fine” when Phillips called that emergency meeting to discuss concerns amongst the ‘This Is It’ team regarding the singer’s health.
Plenty of emails were revealed, stories told and then retold, and inconsistencies argued over at length during Phillips’ week-plus on the witness stand, though the stand out moment was probably when the AEG man recalled conversations with his longtime friend Brenda Richie (the ex-wife of Lionel).
She, it seems, had ‘communications’ with Jackson after his 2009 death. “Brenda called me to tell me that she was in communications with Michael, either through a medium or directly”, Phillips told the court. “She said Michael told her that it wasn’t Dr Murray’s fault, and that he had accidentally killed himself”.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the Jackson team objected to the inclusion of a ghost story in Phillips’ testimony, though mainly because it was “triple hearsay”, something Phillips had been told by Richie who was told by a medium who was told by Jackson. Who was dead at the time.
With Phillips’ long drawn out moment in the spotlight now done, the case continues.
Read more from:
Business News | Jacksons v AEG Timeline | Legal | Live Business | Top Stories
Read more about: AEG Live | Conrad Murray | Michael Jackson | Paul Gongaware | Randy Phillips | The Jacksons | Tim Leiweke
SIGN UP HERE for free CMU music news in your inbox every week day with the CMU Daily