Tensions rose during Tuesday's court session when AEG Live's Co-CEO Paul Gongaware took the stand for the first time
The Katherine Jackson vs. AEG trial entered its second month in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday.
Among the day's court proceedings was the first appearance of AEG Live Co-CEO and former Jackson tour manager Paul Gongaware, who is being sued along with AEG and AEG Live's CEO and President Randy Phillips. Gongaware testified during a tense courtroom examination by Jackson attorney Brian Panish. Janet Jackson, who showed at court for the first time since the trial began, was seated next to her mother Katherine.
The ongoing trial is over a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Katherine Jackson and Michael's children, Paris, Prince and Blanket, against concert promoter AEG. The suit claims AEG was responsible for negligently hiring Dr. Conrad Murray, currently serving four years for involuntary manslaughter over Jackson's death on June 25, 2009 from a fatal dose of Propofol. AEG contends that they never hired the doctor, claiming he was employed by Jackson himself.
Here's a look at the 5 latest developments in the Michael Jackson Estate vs. AEG trial:
1. Emphasizing AEG's "honesty" and "transparency," Gongaware denied to Panish that he had ever tried to deceive Michael Jackson. However an email that Gongaware wrote and sent to AEG executives in 2008, which was displayed on screens in the courtroom, said, "Net to Mikey 132 million..It's a big number but this is not a number MJ will want to hear. He thinks he's so much bigger than that. If we use show income it's over a quarter of a billion dollars. His net share works out to be 50 percent after local venue and ad costs which is quite good. His gross is half a billion. Maybe gross is a better number to throw around if we need to use numbers with Mikey listening."
In an email Gongaware sent in March, 2009 to his assistant Kelly DiStefano, her instructions were to alter Jackson's schedule to make it look like his schedule wasn't as grueling. "Change the color for the actual shows to something like first one you used like a light tan or something. I don't want the shows to stand out so much when MJ looks at it… Figure it out so it looks like he's not working so much." When queried by Panish over why he gave such instructions to his assistant, Gongaware, who claimed during his deposition that he had no knowlege of his motivation, said, "I didn't want him to misread it so he thought he was working more than he was. I was trying to present it in the best possible light."
2. Upon viewing some of his own emails which he couldn't recall writing or sending, Panish asked Gongaware, "Sir, have you have been having a problem with identity theft? Is someone writing emails under your name?" During his deposition, Gongaware denied any written connection to a "This Is It" press conference in which Jackson was set to introduce the film to critics and media. Jackson was also scheduled to introduce the "This Is It" tour in London. Gongaware wrote, "We can not be forced into stopping this which MJ will try to do because he's lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants." Gongaware testified Tuesday that "lazy" was a "poor choice of words" and he had just meant to convey that Jackson didn't like doing promotion. As to Gongaware's inability to recall certain emails that he had written and sent, he said, "Those were written three and a half years ago and I was doing hundreds of emails a day."
3. Despite an email sent to "This is It" tour business manager Timm Woolley by Gongaware which approved tour charges, including a house for Dr. Murray in London, he claims budget approvals by him were merely a "technical" task included in his job "but that he had never read any of it at the time." Jackson attorney Panish pounced, asking: "Your custom of practice when reviewing budgets on a $34 million project is that you don't review them?" Gongaware said he didn't feel it was necessary to respond given that Woolley and he both reached an understanding of the process. When asked pointblank if it was his job to approve budgets, Gongaware gave an evasive answer saying, "It's my job to get the show on the road." His answer prompted Panish to repeat the question. Gongaware conceded that it's his job to approve budgets, but explained that budgets are constantly in flux during production and are only adjusted and settled once a tour is over.
4. Gongaware repeatedly denied having employed Dr. Murray, saying "I never hired him" and "Michael asked me to retain him." Gongaware was then shown a video of an interview (which he claimed he's never seen prior to Tuesday) in July 2009 in which AEG CEO/President Randy Phillips talked about Dr. Murray to Sky News saying, "We just felt this is his personal doctor and he wants him 24/7 and he's willing to leave his practice for a very large sum of money." As to why a background check was not run on Dr. Murray, Gongaware justified it by saying, "Michael Jackson insisted on him, recommended him, and that was good enough for me. It's not for me to tell Michael Jackson who his doctor should be….he wanted a doctor and I wanted him to be healthy for this tour." When quizzed on whether he had the authority to hire or fire Dr. Murray, Gongaware said, "I don't think so. He worked directly for Mr. Jackson." However Panish reminded the courtroom that Gongaware had actually terminated Jackson's nanny and so it would seem he could equally have terminated Dr. Murray too if he wanted to do so.
5. The court reviewed a June 2009 meeting held at Jackson's Carolwood home with Michael Jackson, Dr. Murray, AEG CEO/President Randy Phillips, Frank DiLeo (Jackson's former manager) and "This Is It" tour director Kenny Ortega. Gongaware stressed that the meeting was not about Jackson's health, but just to make sure that Dr. Murray had everything he would need to care for Jackson properly. But his testimony during Conrad Murray's criminal trial seem to contradict the statements he made to the court on Tuesday. Gongaware testified at Michael's criminal trial, in Sept. 28, 2011, that "This is It" tour director Kenny Ortega had requested the meeting over concerns about Michael's absences from rehearsal, as well as his health. Additionally, a police report filed after Gongaware was interviewed by Los Angeles Police Department references the meeting, saying that Gongaware told police the main topic of the meeting was "Jackson's overall health – diet, stamina and his weight. Jackson had missed a rehearsal and was thought to be dancing at home. However they discovered he was only watching video. Doctor Murray was receptive to their concerns and indicated he would take care of the situation." When Panish showed the police report on screens in the courtroom, Gongaware flat out denied having said that to police and said, "I think the police have it wrong."