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After a long line of ‘experts’, Ortega takes the stand: Jacksons v AEG Update

By | Published on Tuesday 9 July 2013

Michael Jackson

Another key player in the final weeks in the life of Michael Jackson has taken to the stand in the ongoing Jacksons v AEG Live court case, which continues to rumble on in LA.

Kenny Ortega, the director of Jackson’s ill-fated ‘This Is It’ live venture, saw more of the singer than most in the weeks before his death, and was perhaps most vocal in raising concerns with his AEG paymasters about the late king of pop’s deteriorating health in June 2009. Indeed, it was after Ortega expressed his concerns that AEG Live President Randy Phillips called a meeting at Jackson’s home, where the star’s doctor Conrad Murray seemingly convinced the live exec that all was fine.

The first few hours of Ortega’s testimony yesterday was more of a eulogy to Jackson’s creative talents, he had a voice, created songs and danced “like no one else in his generation”, the director said. But today attention should shift to the events that occurred as Ortega and Jackson worked on ‘This Is It’ in spring 2009, and whether or not AEG execs ignored warning signs regards the pop star’s health issues, and concerns about the treatments he was receiving from Murray.

As much previously reported, the Jackson family wants AEG held liable for the death of their most famous sibling and son, arguing that it hired Murray, who was found guilty of causing Jackson’s death through negligent treatment. The live giant also put undue pressure on the medic for commercial reasons, the Jacksons argue, and failed to act on obvious ‘red flags’ regards the singer’s physical and mental health. AEG counters that Jackson himself recruited and managed Murray, and that it’s only with hindsight that the sinister clues regards the singer’s wellbeing in early 2009 now seem so obvious.

Since last we looked in on the Jacksons v AEG case three weeks ago, just as the key testimonies from AEG bosses reached their conclusion, it’s been mainly experts speaking in court. They’ve been discussing the treatments the late king of pop received from Murray, the singer’s consumption of prescription drugs, and whether AEG Live fulfilled all its duties when agreeing to pay the negligent doctor’s bills, the company having admitted it did little to check out the medical man’s credentials once Jackson had chosen him.

On the latter point, the Jackson’s reps last week presented Jean Seawright, an expert in human resources, who insisted that best practice in her profession would say that the live giant should have performed a “comprehensive background check” on Murray before allowing him to work on the ‘This Is It’ venture. Especially after the doctor initially demanded $5 million for the project, later settling on £150,000 a month, figures which – it’s been noted already – are exorbitant, and should possibly have made the live firm suspicious of the medic’s motivations.

Another expert last week discussed Jackson’s drug use, and whether the singer was, in fact, an addict. Dr Sidney Schnoll told the court that, on the evidence available, he wouldn’t classify Jackson as having had an addiction, rather he was drug dependent. Jackson only took drugs prescribed to him by doctors, and generally stuck to recommended dosages, neither of which are the actions of an addict. And while the singer did seek medications for multiple medics, ultimately the drugs he sought were treating genuine conditions, mainly to relieve pain stemming from past injuries.

Elsewhere in the long line-up of boffins, last month a sleep expert from Harvard Medical School gave what was, perhaps ironically, one of the least sleep-inducing testimonies so far, discussing Murray’s administration of the surgical anaesthetic propofol to help Jackson overcome insomnia. Dr Charles Czeisler explained why the treatment was incompetent beyond the risk of overdose, noting that while the medication gives the patient the impression that they have slept, they are actually deprived of rapid eye movement sleep, which is essential for a healthy body.

If, as Murray has said, Jackson went through nearly two months of propofol-induced sleep every night, that is likely the longest any human has gone without any REM sleeping. So much so, the doctor reckoned, the treatment could have caused Jackson’s demise even he hadn’t actually overdosed on the drug. Certainly the various symptoms reported by those working with the singer in the weeks before his death were in line with what you’d expect from sleep deprivation. “I believe that that constellation of symptoms was more probably than not induced by total sleep deprivation over a chronic period”, the expert concluded.

Of course whether or not any of these expert testimonies help the jury answer the core questions in this case – ie did AEG hire Murray (or did the company simply provide finance for Jackson to hire him), and did its executives put inappropriate pressure on the doctor? – is debatable. It’s possible the input from people like Ortega will be much more important in that regard.

The case continues. Meanwhile, in Ohio, a sideshow case goes through the motions involving the family of the late Frank DiLeo, the on-again-off-again former manager of Jackson, who was involved in the star’s business affairs once again in the final weeks of his life. As previously reported, the Jackson family want to review DiLeo’s emails and files from those weeks, to see if AEG was putting pressure on him to put pressure on Murray to get the star ready to perform “whatever it takes”.

DiLeo died in 2011, but the Jackson family lawyers wanted access to his laptop. Despite efforts by the former manager’s widow, supported by AEG, to block those moves, a court ruled that the Jacksons could review the computer in question. Though by the time that ruling had been made, the laptop was missing.

As it turned out, DiLeo’s lawyer had backups of most files, which are in the process of being turned over to the Jacksons, but it’s now alleged that the manager’s widow and/or daughter do actually know the location of the original computer, and are refusing to hand it over. A judge has told the two women that if they don’t deliver the machine this week they could face jail for contempt of court. It remains to be seen how that one pans out in the coming days.

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