A retired music executive testified Monday in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial that it would be "highly inappropriate" and "highly unusual" move for a concert promoter or producer to hire a physician for an artist.
Former Capitol Records President David Berman said in his 30 years in the industry — working as an attorney and for companies including Geffen Records, Warner Bros. Records, and Disney's Buena Vista Music Group — he had never hired a doctor for an artist and has "never heard of it being done."
"The fundamental problem is that it creates a conflict of interest on the part of the physician," Berman testified.
"You have this situation where here the physician has dual obligations to both the patient, of course, and to the person and the entity that is engaging him and who is paying his compensation."
Berman said it was a "more egregious" conflict "given the facts and circumstances of this case."
Berman's testimony comes in the eighth week of the case, filed by Jackson's mother and three children.
The family contends entertainment giant AEG Live negligently hired and controlled Conrad Murray, the doctor who gave Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol two weeks before he was supposed to arrive in London for the 50-show "This Is It" tour.
AEG Live says it was Jackson who hired Murray, and any money paid to the physician was part of a much larger advance to the singer.
Murray is serving jail time for his involuntary manslaughter conviction.
Berman, retained by the Jackson lawyers as a $500-per-hour expert witness, answered questions based on his assumption that AEG Live hired Murray. The judge later reminded jurors it was up to them to determine which party made the hire.
Berman said one email in particular showed AEG was aware of a potential conflict of interest with Murray. In the message between AEG Live Chief Executive Randy Phillips and "This Is It" director Kenny Ortega, Phillips wrote that Murray was "extremely successful" — noting "we check everyone out" — and "does not need this gig, so he is totally unbiased and ethical."
"There are serious problems with that statement," Berman testified. "He recognizes the potential of the doctor not being unbiased and ethical if he perhaps did need the gig."
Another "red flag" about Murray, Berman said, was the $5 million the doctor initially requested for his services. Even the $150,000 per month fee later agreed upon was an "exorbitant amount," he said.
Jackson attorney Bill Bloss presented a series of emails to the jury Monday, including correspondence in which the doctor asked AEG executive Timm Woolley for two months' worth of his salary.
"The legal department has not yet completed the agreement which is rather specialized since it is a rare event that a physician is engaged to accompany a touring artist," Woolley replied.
[For the record, 2:55 p.m. June 17: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that after reading emails, David Berman testified that he believed AEG hired Dr. Conrad Murray. In fact, he answered questions based on the assumption that AEG had hired Murray. A headline on the earlier version also incorrectly said that the witness believed AEG had hired Murray.]
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