By Jeff Gottlieb
12:58 AM EDT, June 5, 2013
AEG Live’s chief executive testified Tuesday that he thought the wrongful death suit brought against the company by Michael Jackson’s mother and children was an extortion attempt.
While he never uttered the word, Randy Phillips said he agreed when a Jackson family attorney asked if that was how he felt.
Phillips’ acknowledged his feelings during his first few minutes on the stand, which came at the end of court Tuesday, giving a preview of what promises to be hours of contentious testimony.
FULL COVERAGE: AEG wrongful death trial
“You believe this case is an extortion?” Jackson attorney Brian Panish asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
As he continued under his questioning, Phillips at one point said, “I wish you wouldn’t keep calling it a baseless shakedown.”
PHOTOS: Jackson-AEG wrongful-death case
His short time on the stand, though, was not without humor. At one point, Panish handed Phillips an article from Forbes magazine, saying, “Your picture looks good.”
Phillips: “That’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me today.”
Panish: “Just give me a chance.”
But in another instance, when Phillips appeared to crack a smile, Panish asked, “You think this is funny, sir?”
“No,” he replied. “I think it’s tragic.”
Several emails Phillips wrote at the time of the pop singer's planned comeback tour are central to the Jacksons' case in which they contend AEG negligently hired and supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, who is serving jail time for administering a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to the singer.
AEG, though, says Jackson hired Murray and that any money the entertainment company was supposed to pay the doctor was part of an advance to the singer.
After receiving an email from Kenny Ortega, the director of the planned “This Is It” concert series in London, saying Jackson needed psychiatric help, Phillips wrote back, "I had a lengthy conversation with Dr. Murray, who I am gaining immense respect for as I get to deal with him more.
"He said that Michael is not only physically equipped to perform and, that discouraging him to, will hasten his decline. ... This doctor is extremely successful (we check everyone out) and does not need this gig so he [is] totally unbiased and ethical," Philips wrote.
Phillips on Tuesday said he described Murray as successful “because that’s what I was told.”
Murray, who closed his practice to minister to Jackson for $150,000 a month, was actually deep in debt and facing foreclosure on his home.
Phillips testified he wrote that Murray had been checked out because “I thought at time he had been. I still think he had been to an extent.”
The Jackson family attorneys are sure to return to the email as testimony continues.
Phillips also testified that AEG tried to set up a Jackson tour in 2007, but the pop star’s representatives said he wasn’t ready to go on the road.
The company got involved the next year after the investment firm Colony Capital bought the note on the singer’s Neverland Ranch.
Phillips said that Philip Anschutz, the owner of parent company AEG, knew Tom Barrack, Colony Capital’s chairman. Anschutz told Phillips to set up a meeting, which took place in Colony Capital’s Century City offices in June 2008, leading Phillips to write a strategic plan.
“I caution you that MJ is not fast and a total perfectionist (needs to be controlled as much as possible)…I believe he can net, at least $1 M per night after all costs including professional fees and, possibly, more,” Phillips wrote in an email to a Colony Capital partner.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times