No matter the stakes or the celebrity, attorneys in the Michael Jackson wrongful-death case will each be held to a 2 1/2-hour opening statement when trial opens Monday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos said she hoped the time limit would keep the statements from spilling over into the next day, when witnesses could be called to the stand.
Palazuelos also plans to rule on multiple outstanding motions, including whether to unseal the music legend’s medical records and preclude certain testimony from expert witnesses.
Filed by Jackson’s mother and three children, the wrongful-death suit accuses AEG’s concert promotions arm of hiring and controlling Dr. Conrad Murray, who administered the fatal dose of propofol to the pop singer shortly before he was scheduled to appear in a series of comeback shows in 2009.
“AEG had legal duties to Michael Jackson to treat him safely and to not put him in harm’s way. But AEG, despite its knowledge of Michael Jackson’s physical condition, breached those duties by putting its desire for massive profits from the tour over the health and safety of Michael Jackson,” the complaint alleges.
Brian Panish, attorney for the Jackson family, said he did not know who would be called first from a list of witnesses that is lengthy and celebrity studded. In addition to Jackson’s family members and his ex-wives, Debbie Rowe and Lisa Marie Presley, plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated they could call music industry heavyweights Quincy Jones, Diana Ross and Prince.
The jury, which includes six alternates, was impaneled earlier this week after selection began April 2. The jurors were drawn from a pool of about 100 people who first had to demonstrate that sitting on a trial slated for four months would not present a hardship.
Attorneys expect to focus on Jackson’s medical condition, which is why both sides have requested that the singer’s medical files be unsealed. Jackson’s estate, although not a party in the suit, has requested that certain portions of those files be kept private.
Among the experts that the defense took issue with is certified public accountant Arthur Erk, who projected in his deposition that Jackson could have earned $269 million on a series of Las Vegas shows featuring his music, as well as $50 million in a clothing deal.
Sabrina Strong, an attorney for AEG, said that was unrealistic for a performer who had many failed projects.
“That’s a hope, a dream, that’s not a basis for damages,” she said.
In hearings leading up to the trial, tension has been high in the courtroom, with attorneys trading barbs and pointed comments.
Panish has accused the defense of turning every motion into “World War III,” and AEG’s attorneys have sounded off about what they called the plaintiffs’ lack of professionalism.
On Thursday, attorneys quibbled over the audio-visual equipment to be used during the trial. Despite plaintiffs’ protests, Palazuelos ruled that the courtroom would use monitors provided by the defense. Panish insisted his firm had no reason to shoulder any of the equipment cost, estimated to be about $6,000 a month.
“AEG can afford it,” he said.
“Your honor, we have to stop those type of references,” said Marvin Putnam, a partner with O’Melveny & Myers.
Panish countered, “I’m not AEG, I’m not worth billions of dollars.”