Judge rejects e-mail ban in Michael Jackson death lawsuit
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — The judge presiding over the Michael Jackson family’s wrongful death lawsuit against AEG rejected the concert promoter’s arguments that family members were the source of leaked e-mails in the case.
AEG lawyers accused Michael Jackson’s three children, his mother and their lawyers of giving the e-mails to a newspaper reporter in violation of the judge’s order that they remain under seal.
“It is clear that only one entity could have done it,” AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam said in a hearing last month.
Jackson family lawyers became furious in court, pointing out that AEG was accusing 10-year-old Blanket Jackson, the youngest of the children.
“What’s the idea, that Blanket Jackson got some documents and copied them and somehow walked them from Calabasas to Harriet Ryan?” attorney Kevin Boyle said, pointing to Putnam.
Jackson lawyers denied anyone associated with their legal team or their clients leaked the e-mails, and suggested that AEG lawyers may have done it themselves as a set up.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos issued her ruling on the question this week.
The communications, published two months ago in the Los Angeles Times, 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.
AEG wanted the judge to punish Katherine Jackson and the children — Prince, Paris and Blanket — by not allowing their lawyers to use the e-mails to convince a jury in a trial set for next April that the company contributed to the pop star’s death.
Jackson died of an overdose of a surgical anesthesia in combination with sedatives on June 25, 2009, according to 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 patient’s 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 Murray.
“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.”
Reporter Harriet Ryan has refused to disclose her sources, although Howard Mann — who was once Katherine Jackson’s 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 payout of a $17.5 million insurance policy on 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 leaked e-mails include 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 added “life must go on.”
“AEG will make a fortune from merch sales, ticket retention, the touring exhibition and the film/dvd,” Phillips wrote. 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 March 2009 e-mail from Phillips saying Jackson was “locked in his room drunk and despondent” indicate 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.
“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 the star’s death. Ortega wrote to Phillips that Jackson had “strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior” and suggested 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. Those concerns 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.