Katherine Jackson was in court Tuesday, accompanied by Janet, Rebbie and Randy Jackson. Rebbie and Randy were asked to leave because of space limitations in the court room. Katherine is allowed only one companion. Janet made a surprise appearance in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday for a trial pitting her mother against AEG Live, the promoter of her late brother’s doomed comeback tour.
She wore a black trench coat, dark pants and her tawny curls were tied back in a loose ponytail as she sat in the front row next to her mother. Janet is on the witness list for the lengthy civil trial, in the family’s bid to show that AEG Live was negligent in overseeing Michael’s preparation for the ‘This is It’ tour.
But she was not scheduled to take the stand Tuesday and instead appeared to see AEG honcho Paul Gongaware be called to testify, Katherine Jackson’s lawyer said. “She wants to hear Gongaware’s excuses,” lawyer Brian Panish said.
Co-CEO of AEG Live Paul Gongaware testified today, as a hostile witness called to give evidence by Katherine’s counsel.
Jackson family attorneys presented emails in which he called Michael Jackson “lazy” and suggested that AEG executives misrepresent how much the singer would earn from his planned comeback tour.
Gongaware testified that he believed Michael was the best performer of his era, and potentially of all time.
“To get Michael Jackson you weren’t always honest with him were you sir?” Lead attorney Brian Panish asked.
“I believe I was honest,” Gongaware said.
Panish then produced a 2008 email exchange between Gongaware and AEG CEO Randy Phillips. In the email, Gongaware said Michael could expect to net $132 million from the ‘This Is It’ tour.
“It’s a big number, but this is not a number MJ will want to hear. He thinks he is so much bigger than that,” Gongaware said in the email.
“His gross will approach half a billion dollars,” the email goes on to say. “Maybe gross is a better number to throw around if we need to use numbers with Mikey listening.”
“Were you making a plan to fool Michael into thinking he was going to make more money than he really was on the tour?” Panish asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t recall writing this email,” Gongaware said.
Michael at the Press Conference
Michael with Karen Faye
Paul Gongaware came under aggressive examination on whether AEG or Michael was responsible for hiring Murray, who was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Michael’s death. Gongaware testified that he didn’t pay attention to the tour budgets that he approved, even though he was the tour manager.
He said that he didn’t read through the budgets, instead trusting that the tour accountant for Michael’s planned comeback concert series “knew what he was talking about.”
Gongaware testified that Dr. Conrad Murray’s salary, although included in the company’s budget for several months, wasn’t something he saw as an actual payment that would be made.
“If there’s a potential for cost we put it in our budget so there are no surprises later,” he said.
Gongaware said he spoke on the phone twice with Murray. The first time, the doctor requested $5 million to join the ‘This Is It’ tour as Michael’s physician. The second time, Murray agreed to a salary of $150,000 a month, which was a figure suggested by Michael.
“He started in saying that he wanted more and I said that offer came directly from the artist and he immediately accepted,” Gongaware said of their second phone conversation.
He added: “It wasn’t a done deal. We agreed on what the compensation would be, but there was still a lot of open issues that had to be resolved.”
He indicated that he was so shocked by Murray’s demand that he consulted a doctor friend to see what he would charge for the same job. The other doctor said he would have gone on tour for $10,000 a week.
“Did you ever convey that to Michael Jackson?” asked Panish.
“I don’t recall,” said Gongaware whose testimony was peppered with that phrase.
Gongaware said although AEG never did a background check on Murray, in his view they had “checked out” the doctor according to their standard practices.
“When we check out someone, we either rely on if we know the person or if they’re known in the industry or if they’re recommended by the artist,” he said. “And in this case, Dr. Murray was recommended by the artist — in fact, the artist insisted.”
Brian Panish pressed Gongaware. “You did nothing to verify anything about Dr. Murray, isn’t that true, sir?”
“Well, Michael Jackson insisted on him, recommended him and that was good enough for me,” Gongaware replied. “It’s not up to me to tell Michael Jackson who his doctor should be.”
Panish asked: “You could have told Dr. Murray at any time that his services were no longer needed, couldn’t you?”
“No,” Gongaware replied.
Gongaware said the fact that Murray had been Michael’s personal physician for three years was good enough for him. He testified that he never investigated Dr. Conrad Murray’s background and merely accepted Michael’s recommendation.
Panish then pointed out that the AEG executive had fired Michael’s nanny after being asked to do so by the singer’s aide.
Gongaware said he attended a meeting at Michael’s Holmby Hills home in June 2009 with other AEG executives; Frank Dileo, Michael’s manager; and Murray. Gongaware said the hour long meeting was not about Michael missing rehearsals, but about “whether Dr. Murray and Michael had everything they needed to take care of Michael’s health.”
Jurors were later shown a police summary of the meeting.
“The topic of the meeting was Jackson’s overall health, i.e., diet, stamina and his weight,” the document read. “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.”
Gongaware said in a separate meeting with Michael, the singer had slurred speech and “was a little bit off…. I believe he was under the influence of something because he wasn’t quite right.”
Gongaware testified that he was a logistics manager on Michael’s ‘Dangerous’ tour in 1993 but never knew about Michael’s addiction to pain meds until the iconic entertainer publicly announced his need for rehab.
Gongaware said he knew of “two occasions” when Michael used painkillers between shows, but he claimed he didn’t grasp the scope of the singer’s sickness until the taped 1993 announcement.
“I would dispute knowing that he had a problem,” Gongaware said. “I wasn’t aware that there were problems.”
During his testimony Paul Gongaware was questioned about a series of emails,
Panish: Mr. Phillips wanted to pull the plug on the show, right sir?
Gongaware: I think he was referring to pull the plug on Karen Faye.
Three months before Michael died, top executive of concert promoter AEG Live Randy Phillips, wrote an email to Gongaware saying, “We need to pull the plug now. I will explain.”
This email was sent on March 25, 2009. Gongaware denied that the email was a reference to calling off Michael’s ‘This Is It’ concerts in London but instead was pointed at “pulling the plug on Karen Faye,” Michael’s hairstylist, makeup artist and longtime friend who had expressed fears about Michael’s poor health.
“We never talked about pulling the plug on the Michael Jackson tour, not that I recall.” said Gongaware, co-chief executive of AEG Live’s touring division.
Karen Faye testified earlier in the trial that she told tour director Kenny Ortega in June that she was worried Michael would die.
In another March 25, 2009, email, Ortega wrote Gongaware that it was Faye’s “strong opinion that this is dangerous and impractical with consideration to MJ’s health and ability to perform.” The singer died June 25, 2009, as he was rehearsing for the tour.
The email, shown to the jury in the wrongful-death suit filed by Michael’s mother and children, raises questions about how early people began sending out warnings about Michael’s health.
“I think Kenny wanted to pull the plug on her because of the way she handled the situation,” Gongaware testified about Faye. “She tried to control access to Michael Jackson, and Kenny didn’t like that.”
Gongaware also defended a March 2009 email that instructed his assistant to adjust the color-coding of a tour schedule so Michael’s workload would appear less rigorous when the singer saw it.
Panish: Did you wanted to change the color of the schedule to show MJ, show him he would not be working so hard?
Email: “I don’t want the shows to stand out so much when MJ looked at them. He could figure out so it looks like he’s not working so much.
“Figure it out so it looks like he’s not working so much,” Gongaware told the assistant.
Panish, asked if Gongaware was trying to “fool” Michael into thinking his schedule was easier than it in fact was.
“I wasn’t trying to fool him,” Gongaware replied. “I was trying to present it in the best possible light.”
Another email, Gongaware said, was about the need for Michael to appear at a news conference in London announcing the concerts. “We cannot be forced into stopping this, which MJ will try to do because he is lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants,” he wrote.
Explaining the email, Gongaware testified that Michael “really didn’t like to rehearse. He didn’t like to do these kinds of things.”
“We let Mikey know just what it will cost him in terms of him making of money, and then we go with or without him in London.
“Were you making a plan to fool Michael into thinking he was going to make more money than he really was on the tour?” Panish asked. “I don’t know. I don’t recall writing this email,” Gongaware said.
Panish also presented an email in which the AEG co-CEO discussed a planned press conference in London announcing the planned comeback tour.
“We cannot be forced into stopping this, which MJ will try to do because he is lazy and constantly changes his mind to fit his immediate wants,” Gongaware wrote.
“We let Mikey know just what it will cost him in terms of him making of money, and then we go with or without him in London.”
Email on 2/27/09 from Gongaware to Phillips: We are holding all of the all the risk, if MJ won’t approve it we go without his approval. No one knows how many shows we can get with Mikey,” said Gongaware.
When asked about the term, Mikey, Gongaware testified that he used this name occasionally and it was not a detrimental term towards Michael.
When asked how many tickets were sold following the Press Conference for Michael’s ‘This Is It’ concerts …..
Panish: In 2 hours, how many tickets sold?
Gongaware: In initial presale we sold out 31 shows.
Panish: The fastest you had ever seen??
Panish elicited contradictory testimony asking over and over about Gongaware’s memory, and how long he spent with lawyers to discuss testimony.
Gongaware is expected to take the stand again Wednesday.