By Jeff Gottlieb
1:36 PM EDT, September 9, 2013
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge made a tentative ruling Monday throwing out the case against two AEG executives who were promoting Michael Jackson’s ill-fated “This Is It” comeback tour.
Judge Yvette Palazuelos, however, left AEG Live, one of the nation’s largest concert promoters, as a defendant in the case.
Jackson’s mother and three children are suing AEG Live, Chief Executive Randy Phillips and executive Paul Gongaware, saying they negligently hired and supervised Conrad Murray, the doctor who administered a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to the singer to help with his insomnia. Jackson died as he was preparing for a set of concerts in London.
AEG has argued that Jackson hired Murray and that any money the company was supposed to pay the doctor was an advance to the singer.
Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s June 2009 death.
A mid-morning hearing is scheduled Monday to allow attorneys to argue the judge’s tentative ruling
Phillips and Gongaware are key witnesses at the trial, and both testified for several days. Phillips testified that he thought the lawsuit was extortion.
Phillips wrote several emails that have emerged as key evidence in the trial, now going into its fifth month and not expected to reach the jury until late this month or next.
After receiving an email from Kenny Ortega, the director of the planned “This Is It” concert series in London, saying Jackson needed psychiatric help just a few days before the singer died, 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.
But testimony showed the company did little to check out Murray, who is now serving a jail sentence. Murray, who closed his practice to serve as Jackson’s tour physician, was deep in debt and facing foreclosure on his home.
Gongaware, who had known Jackson from previous tours, helped negotiate Murray’s contract, which called for him to be paid $150,000 a month. According to trial testimony, no one connected with Jackson was shown any of the three drafts of the contract. Murray signed it the day before Jackson died, the only one who signed the document.
Gongaware wrote an email that could be among the most important pieces of evidence in determining who employed Murray. Eleven days before the singer died, he wrote: "We want to remind him [Murray] that it is AEG, not MJ who is paying his salary. We want him to understand what is expected of him."
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