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As Michael Jackson-AEG civil trial nears, attorneys squabble

April 25, 2013|By Corina Knoll
  • Michael Jackson in a scene from the movie "This Is It."
Michael Jackson in a scene from the movie "This Is It." (Kevin Mazur )

With the Michael Jackson wrongful death civil trial around the corner, attorneys argued Thursday about a number of issues, including whether to unseal the music legend’s medical records and preclude certain testimony from expert witnesses.

The wrongful death suit filed by Jackson’s mother and three children accuses AEG’s concert promotions arm of hiring and controlling Dr. Conrad Murray, who administered the fatal dose of propofol to the pop singer. Jackson died in 2009, shortly before he was scheduled to appear in a series of comeback shows in London.

Jackson’s estate, although not a party in the suit, has requested that certain portions of his medical history be kept private.

FULL COVERAGE: AEG wrongful death trial

Patricia Millett, a lawyer for the estate, said she hadn’t spoken with attorneys in the civil case about which exhibits they planned to introduce.

“We won’t know precisely what we need until plaintiffs’ case is done,” said one of AEG’s attorneys Jessica Stebbins Bina. She added that the records were “relevant to the cause of his death, life expectancy and earning potential."

Kevin Boyle, an attorney for the Jackson family, said he didn’t think the actual records would be a large component, but could become relevant. “The whole trial is going to be about Michael Jackson’s medical condition,” he said.

A deputy city attorney representing the Los Angeles Fire Department was also present Thursday and said records from the night Jackson died were subject to HIPPA privacy laws.

Judge Yvette Palazuelos has yet to issue her final ruling.

Attorneys also argued over excluding opinions of expert witnesses.

In his deposition, Dr. Gordon Matheson, a Stanford professor of sports medicine, testified that financial conflicts of interest affect medical care decisions, Stebbins Bina said.

“The issue here, your honor, is we have a sports ethicist interpreting contracts,” she said.

Her firm also said the plaintiff’s expert witness Arthur Erk, a certified public accountant, had no basis for the estimated earning capacity of Jackson. Erk 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.

An attorney for the defense 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.

As tensions rose in the courtroom, attorneys quibbled over audio-visual equipment that will be used during the trial. Despite plaintiffs’ protests, Palazuelos ruled the courtroom would use monitors provided by the defense.

Panish insisted his firm had no reason to shoulder any of the equipment’s 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.

Panish countered, “I’m not AEG, I’m not worth billions of dollars.”

Palazuelos ordered the two sides to work it out themselves. “I don’t want to get involved.

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Twitter: @corinaknoll

corina.knoll@latimes.com

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