Published May 21, 2013
LOS ANGELES – AEG Live LLC did not conduct any background checks or supervise the doctor who was later convicted of killing Michael Jackson, a corporate attorney testified Tuesday in a lawsuit claiming the concert promoter was negligent in hiring the physician.
AEG Live General Counsel Shawn Trell told jurors that no legal or financial checks were done involving Conrad Murray or anyone else who worked as an independent contractor on the "This Is It" shows.
Jackson's mother Katherine is suing AEG claiming it failed to properly investigate Murray, who was deeply in debt when he agreed to serve as Jackson's tour physician in 2009 for $150,000 a month.
Trell said he thought a background check would be appropriate for people working in financial roles, but not tour personnel who weren't employees of AEG.
Murray's employment status is a central issue in the case. Katherine Jackson's lawyers contend he was hired by AEG, but the company denies it hired him and notes the singer died before signing the doctor's contract.
Trell also acknowledged while testifying that numerous people in the company knew of concerns that Jackson's health was declining.
Five days before Jackson died, AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips alerted the promoter's parent company that Jackson had missed a rehearsal and didn't appear to be ready for his comeback concerts.
"We have a real problem here," Phillips wrote in the message to the CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group.
Trell agreed with a statement by plaintiff's attorney Brian Panish that company executives knew by then there was a "deep issue" with Jackson.
Trell also said he continued discussions with an insurance broker about additional coverage to recoup AEG Live's investment if the tour had to be canceled.
Hours after Phillips sent the warning email, attorney John Branca, who later became co-executor of Jackson's estate, offered to enlist a spiritual and substance abuse specialist to help Jackson, according to an email shown in court.
On that same day, Phillips and others met with Jackson and Murray at the singer's home.
Hours later, Phillips sent an email to tour director Kenny Ortega telling him not to worry. Ortega had expressed grave concerns about Jackson.
"This doctor is extremely successful -- we check everyone out -- and he does not need this gig so he (is) totally unbiased and ethical," Phillips wrote.
Panish called Phillips' statement "a flat out lie" and asked Trell whether he agreed with it or if it signified how AEG did business. Trell said he didn't know what Phillips thought he knew when he wrote the message.
"I know this statement is not accurate, but you'd have to speak with Mr. Phillips about what he thought or meant in saying it," Trell said.
Phillips is listed as a potential witness in the case, and Trell said he expects him to testify later in the trial.
Outside court, AEG's attorney Marvin S. Putnam declined comment on the email or Panish's characterization of it.
Trell also said on Tuesday that no one at AEG supervised or monitored Murray, who was convicted in 2011 of administering a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to Jackson.
Trell is considered the most knowledgeable person on numerous issues involving the shows, including contracts and Jackson's health. He has not yet been questioned by AEG's trial lawyers.
Earlier in the day, Trell revised previous testimony in which he told jurors that tour director Ortega worked on "This Is It" without a contract.
The lawyer said Monday that Ortega worked under an agreement forged through a series of emails but didn't have a signed contract.
On Tuesday, he told jurors he was mistaken, and Ortega did have a contract. The agreement was signed in April and included three pages of legal text and several pages of emails laying out the terms.
Trell said he had been reminded of Ortega's agreement by AEG's trial attorneys.