Following a blow-up outside the courtroom between two attorneys in the Michael Jackson wrongful death suit, the judge warned the attorneys in chambers that they could be sanctioned if the feuds continue and prohibited them from speaking to reporters about the case near the courtroom.
Kevin Boyle and Brian Panish, lawyers for Michael Jackson and his three children, said that Marvin Putnam, AEG's lead attorney, refused to shake hands with Panish and called him "despicable."
"Where I’m from, handshakes mean something, and they're not empty gestures,” said Putnam, who had the confrontation with Panish a day earlier.
Putnam said that he may have told Panish, "What you did yesterday was despicable."
Panish, a former football player at Fresno State, and Putnam, who received his bachelor's degree from Harvard, seem to have an almost visceral dislike of one another, and the two sides have been sniping at each other inside and outside the courtroom almost since the trial began 2-1/2 months ago. Last month, Putnum accused Panish of giving him "the finger" twice.
After the trial recessed Tuesday, the two men were giving their spins on the case to reporters in the hall outside the courtroom when they got into a very loud and heated discussion. "Don't yell at me, Mr. Putnam," Panish said.
Court clerk Nelli Raya, who was holding the courtroom door open, said, "Everyone go your separate ways."
The men continued arguing after Raya said she was going to tell the judge. "He's afraid of the truth," Putnam said.
"Where's Mr. Anschutz?" Panish replied.
Putnam asked what Philip Anschutz, the owner of AEG, the parent company of AEG Live, had to do with the case. As he walked away, Putnam took a parting shot at Panish. "He says these lies to the press and they pick it up."
Putnam said in an interview Wednesday that Panish had "defamed a number of people inside the courtroom and outside the courtroom."
Even before the courthouse opened Wednesday, reporters received an email from the Superior Court's public information office telling them interviews could not be conducted in the hallway "per order of the supervising judge of this building."
Before Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos took the bench, she called the attorneys into her chambers. Panish and Boyle said she told the attorneys they were embarrassing everyone.
Palazuelos told them not to repeat their actions or she would punish them or bring them over to Presiding Judge Daniel Buckley. Both apologized, the two attorneys said.
Boyle said he jokingly asked Palazuelos if it was OK for him to argue with Jessica Stebbins Bina, another AEG attorney, who, like Putnam, works for O'Melveny and Myers.
The attorneys returned to the courtroom after about 10 minutes.
While the attorneys were in the judge's chambers, Raya passed out a one-page list of rules to reporters and emphasized they could not talk to attorneys about the case near the courtroom.
"So you have all been warned," she said. "Basically it means I will kick you out of the court if I see you violating the rules." She also said that reporters and other spectators were prohibited from laughing.
The jury was called in and AEG attorney Samantha Strong continued her cross examination of an accountant who said Jackson could have made $1.5 billion if he had taken the "This Is It" concerts on a worldwide tour.
Strong was standing behind a lectern, a foot or two behind the seated Panish, who had turned around to look at her. At one point jurors laughed. "Did I miss something?" the judge asked.
"I think we have Mr. Panish making faces at me," Strong said.
Panish complained that Strong was "doing it. Raising eyebrows and doing other things. That's why I wanted to watch."
Palazuelos replied, "The good thing about where I sit is I can see everything.”
A few minutes later the judge saw Panish looking at Strong again. "Mr. Panish," she said, like a teacher scolding a wayward student, and made a hand motion for him to turn around.
A little later she gave Panish the signal again .“Remember what I said about turning around so I can see you," she said. "I want to see all of you.”
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