Michael Jackson's last concert promoter will defend itself in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the pop icon's family by arguing that Jackson was responsible for his own demise.
Child molestation accusations against Jackson, for which he was acquitted after a trial, and evidence of his drug addiction will likely be presented by AEG Live's lawyers as they argue that the company had no liability in his death.
The Jackson v. AEG Live trial, which could last two or three months, begins in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday.
Jackson died two weeks before his "This Is It" comeback concerts, organized by AEG Live, were to have debuted in London in the summer of 2009.
"I don't know how you can't look to Mr. Jackson's responsibility there," AEG lawyer Marvin Putnam said. "He was a grown man." Putnam was interviewed for "Michael Jackson: The Final Days," a CNN documentary that will premiere at 10 p.m. Friday.
"Mr. Jackson is a person who was known to doctor shop," Putnam said. "He was known to be someone who would tell one doctor one thing and another doctor something else."
The child molestation trial is relevant because it "resulted in an incredible increase in his drug intake," Putnam said.
Jackson's eccentricities are fair game, AEG Live says
"We're talking about Michael Jackson," Putnam said. "This is a man who would show up in pajamas. This is a man who would stop traffic and get out and dance on top of his car. This is a man who would go to public events with a monkey named Bubbles. This is a man who said he slept in an oxygen chamber."
Lawyers for Jackson's mother, Katherine, and children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, argue that AEG Live is liable because the company hired and supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, who used a surgical anesthetic in a fatal effort to treat the singer's insomnia as he prepared for the comeback concerts. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is serving a prison sentence.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled in February that Jackson lawyers have shown enough evidence to warrant a jury trial on the negligent hiring case. She also ruled there was evidence to support the Jacksons' claim that AEG Live executives could have foreseen that Murray would use dangerous drugs in treating the singer.
The lawsuit seeks a judgment against AEG Live equal to the money Jackson would have earned over the course of his remaining lifetime if he had not died in 2009. If AEG Live is found liable, it could cost the company several billion dollars, according to estimates of Jackson's income potential. AEG Live is a subsidiary of AEG, a global entertainment company that was for sale recently with an $8 billion asking price.
The judge will hear arguments for television cameras in the Los Angeles courtroom just before jury selection starts Tuesday morning. While the Jackson lawyers are expected to support CNN's request to televise the trial, AEG lawyers say they are worried it could create a fan "frenzy" outside the courthouse.
Prince and Paris Jackson to testify about dad's last days
The wrongful death trial, which could last several months, is expected to include testimony from Jackson's mother and his two oldest children, Prince and Paris.
Putnam questioned why their lawyers would call them to testify, suggesting it was "for the emotional response."
"I can't understand why bringing them to the stand has anything to do with whether or not Dr. Conrad Murray was hired by AEG or hired negligently. But perhaps they're bringing them to the stand for different reasons."
He bristled at the allegation, made by the Jackson lawyers in a court filing last month, that he was "behaving aggressively and erratically" in his questioning of Prince Jackson.
"We went out of our way to ensure we did precisely not that," Putnam said. "They may want to try to make the world believe that AEG Live is doing something inappropriate as to these children, but I'd ask the world to pause for a moment and look at what's actually happening here. They're the ones who are bringing this lawsuit and they're the ones who are saying they're going to put these children on the stand, something that I'm relatively certain their father would never, ever want to occur."
Jackson lawyers, he said, "are trying to sensationalize things that never happened" with their allegations about the way Prince was treated, he said. "I think in that scenario they're going to try to whip things up into a frenzy in the hopes that justice will not be served."
The only way AEG Live can lose the case, he said, "would be on an emotional basis outside of the facts."
Murray worked for Michael Jackson, not AEG, lawyer says
The key to AEG Live's defense is its contention that Murray was never an AEG employee but rather was chosen and paid by Michael Jackson for nearly four years until Jackson died.
While Murray has indicated he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid answering questions, Putnam pointed to the interview the doctor gave to police two days after Jackson's June 25, 2009, death. Murray told detectives it was his understanding that he was Jackson's employee, not AEG Live's, even though the concert promoter would be the party cutting his paychecks.
"He was chosen by Michael Jackson," Putnam said. "He was brought to Los Angeles by Michael Jackson. He had been Michael Jackson's long-time physician and continued in that capacity and was directed by him and could only be fired at will by him."