LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury’s rejection of a long-running lawsuit by Michael Jackson’s mother against the promoter of his ill-fated comeback concerts could finally allow Jackson to disappear from a forum he has dominated for years — the courtroom.
For five months, jurors were given an intimate look at Jackson’s life, his drive to be the top entertainer of all time, and his devotion to his mother and three children.
Barring the intervention of an appeals court, Katherine Jackson’s case against concert promoter AEG Live LLC figures to be the last time a jury is asked to consider the life and death of the King of Pop in such detail.
Several court cases involving Jackson remain, including disputes related to his estate, which erased nearly $500 million in debt after his death and keeps churning out new products. It opened a Las Vegas Cirque-du-Soleil show this year and is likely considering additional releases of Jackson-related material to ensure his mother and children keep living comfortably and fans have new material to see and hear.
The financial well-being of his children wasn’t an issue at the trial, but the effects of the family’s fight against AEG Live will likely linger for some time. Despite AEG’s victory, legal experts expect that entertainment companies will change how they deal with celebrities’ requests for specialized staff such as doctors.
“I just think it’s a multiple lesson book on ways for companies to mitigate risk,” said Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor who now handles white collar defense cases for the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm.
Katherine Jackson sued AEG Live in September 2010, alleging the company negligently hired Jackson’s doctor to work on his planned “This Is It” comeback shows. Jurors determined that AEG hired the physician but rejected attempts to link the firm to the death of Jackson.
The lawsuit failed on the jury form’s second question: Was Dr. Conrad Murray unfit and incompetent to serve as the singer’s general practitioner?
The jury decided he was fit and competent, and deliberations ended, even though jury foreman Gregg Barden said the panel did have doubts about the ethics of Murray.
The jury instructions didn’t define unfitness or incompetence, although the panel was repeatedly told during the trial that Murray had been convicted of causing Jackson’s death.
The instructions also didn’t mention ethics, which Barden acknowledged might have changed the outcome if it was included in the question.
“There’s a lot of room for interpretation in there,” McRae said.
There also was no mention of propofol on the jury form, the powerful anesthetic that killed Jackson. The drug is meant only for use in hospitals, but Murray was administering it on a nightly basis to Jackson as a sleep aid.
The structure of the verdict was crucial and didn’t allow the jury to consider all the theories that Katherine Jackson’s lawyers raised throughout the trial, said John Nockleby, director of the Civil Justice Program at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.
Lawyers for Katherine Jackson said they are exploring all possible legal options, which could include asking a judge to set aside the verdict or appealing rulings in the case.
Nockleby said they could have a tough task unless the judge refused to give an instruction that the plaintiffs requested and that altered the outcome of the case.
McRae and Nockleby said they expect corporate lawyers to revise how they deal with requests by celebrities for staff to avoid a lawsuit similar to the AEG Live litigation.
AEG emails were picked apart in court, with lawyers for Katherine Jackson highlighting negative references to her son. As a result, McRae said, lawyers are likely going to instruct clients to change the way they use email for business deals.
Shawn Trell, AEG Live’s general counsel, acknowledged after the verdict that his company would be making changes. He was asked whether the promoter would reconsider the use of doctors to help entertainers prepare for tours.
“I think that answer is self-evident,” Trell said.
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