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“It was his money, his doctor, his choice”: Jacksons v AEG update

By | Published on Thursday 26 September 2013

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson caused the death of Michael Jackson, is the very short summary of Marvin Putnam’s closing arguments at the long running Jacksons v AEG Live trial yesterday. Though that’s what he said way back at the start of the court battle too. But Putnam, representing live giant AEG, will be hoping that during the 83 days of testimony that have occurred since that he has convinced jurors of that fact. The Jackson family want AEG held liable for their famous son and sibling’s death, but Putnam wants jurors to rule otherwise.

He says that Michael Jackson had a long history of prescription drug dependency and doctor shopping, and of keeping his health problems and drug use a secret. That it was Michael Jackson who insisted that Dr Conrad Murray be hired as his personal medic for the ‘This Is It’ venture AEG was promoting. And that while, with hindsight, Murray’s financial affairs and Jackson’s ailing health during the ‘This Is It’ rehearsals were warnings that something wasn’t right, AEG couldn’t have been expected to spot them at the time.

Murray, of course, was jailed for causing Jackson’s death through negligent treatment. The core question for the jurors as they begin their deliberations, probably tomorrow, is did AEG hire the doctor? Putnam is adamant they did not. According to CNN, he said yesterday that Jackson had simply told AEG bosses “we’re bringing this doctor”, and that when his client’s reps suggested to their star that it would be more sensible to hire a British medic for his planned London residency: “Mr Jackson was undeterred. Ultimately, it was his money, his doctor, his choice. He certainly wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer”.

As part of AEG’s commitments to Jackson, it would have paid Murray’s mega $150,000 a month fees, though the live firm says that would have basically been an advance from the king of pop’s cut of the profits it was hoped ‘This Is It’ would generate. And besides, the contract that set all this out remained unsigned by AEG and Jackson when the popstar died (though lawyers for the Jackson family say an oral agreement had been reached, and that Murray’s actual employment began weeks before Michael Jackson’s untimely death).

Tackling claims by the Jackson team that AEG was negligent for not first investigating Murray’s background – he was facing major financial problems which, arguably, made him susceptible to giving his patient whatever he wanted rather than risk losing the highly paid gig – Putnam argued that the medic was fully licensed and “all AEG Live knew was Dr Murray was Mr Jackson’s longtime doctor”. Jackson and his children had used Murray’s services while living in Vegas.

As for the line of witnesses presented by the Jacksons who worked with the king of pop on the ‘This Is It’ rehearsals and described all the concerns they expressed at the time regarding the singer’s health (with hindsight the result of Murray pumping the singer with propofol every night), Putnam said “everyone believed at the time that a 50 year old man, who hadn’t performed in a decade was tired, out of shape and very nervous. That’s what they believed at the time and it makes sense”.

Of course if Putnam fails to convince the jurors that AEG was not in any way liable for Jackson’s demise (Jackson family lawyer Brian Panish said on Tuesday “it’s about shared responsibility”), then the issue of damages will need to be tackled. And although Team Jackson have distanced themselves from those reports that circulated earlier this year that the family would seek $40 billion in damages, Panish has indicated that he’ll be pushing for a pay out of between one and two billion.

But something closer to $21 million would be more reasonable, Putnam claimed yesterday, suggesting that the expert analysis of Michael Jackson’s potential future earning power presented by Panish was misleading, as it ignored the risks associated with the ‘This Is It’ venture, Jackson’s tarnished reputation and unpredictability, and the fact that the singer was facing massive debts at the time of his death that – without the ‘This Is It’ venture – could have led to the forced sale of his stake in Sony/ATV.

And even if Jackson had earned big again post-‘This Is It’, he was very expensive to run, and much of his earnings would have gone on his lavish lifestyle. The £21 million, Putnam argued, was much closer to what Jackson’s mother and children would have actually received from the star had he lived.

Panish will have the opportunity to deliver a rebuttal to AEG’s final arguments today before the jury deliberations begin.