LOS ANGELES • An attorney for the concert promotion company AEG Live warned jurors they would see a very different view of the charismatic Michael Jackson as the company seeks to prove it was not liable for the pop star’s death.
Marvin Putnam, making his opening statement in what is expected to be an emotional wrongful death trial, said AEG officials had no idea that Jackson was taking the surgical anesthetic that led to his death.
He said the three-month civil case would bring to light "some ugly stuff" about the singer’s private behavior.
"The public Michael Jackson was very different from the private Michael Jackson," Putnam said. "He erected a wall between himself and his family. Even his family wasn’t sure what was going on at the house. He kept those who might have been able help him at a distance."
He said Jackson had been using the powerful anesthetic propofol for years to help him sleep "and almost no one knew."
"AEG, like everyone else, was an outsider," Putnam said. "They had no idea. It was going on behind locked doors."
The "Thriller" singer’s mother, Katherine, is suing privately held AEG Live, promoters of a never-realized series of comeback concerts by Jackson, for negligence in hiring Dr. Conrad Murray as his personal physician.
Murray, convicted in 2011 for the involuntary manslaughter of Jackson with a propofol overdose, was caring for the singer as he rehearsed in Los Angeles for a series of 50 "This is It" shows in London in 2009.
Brian Panish, representing Jackson’s family, said AEG Live ignored red flags when it hired Murray and should have been aware that the singer had addiction problems years before he agreed to perform the concerts.
Jackson, 50, drowning in debt and seeking to rebuild a reputation damaged by his 2005 trial and acquittal on child molestation charges, died in Los Angeles in June 2009.
In his opening argument, Panish said AEG Live failed to do proper background checks on Murray, who asked for $5 million to care for the singer. Background checks would have revealed Murray was in debt and was a cardiologist even though Jackson had no known heart issues, Panish said.
"When a red flag comes up, do you turn away or do you look into it?" Panish said. "AEG ignored the obvious red flags and they hired Dr. Murray."
AEG Live contends that it did not hire or supervise Murray, saying that a proposed contract with him was never executed. The concert promoters also have said they could not have foreseen that Murray posed a danger to Jackson.
"This case is about the choices we make and the personal responsibilities that go with that," Putnam said on Monday.
Katherine Jackson, 82, along with her children Randy and Rebbie, were among family members attending Monday’s packed opening of the trial. Jackson’s three children, who could be called as witnesses later, were not there.
Panish said Jackson had known problems with prescription drug addiction dating back to use of the painkiller Demerol following a burn injury when he was shooting a Pepsi commercial in 1984.
Jackson in 1993 announced he was canceling a world tour to seek treatment for his painkiller addiction.
In the days before the trial began, Panish denied the Jackson family is seeking $40 billion in damages from AEG Live, as some media had reported this month.
The final amount will be determined by the jury should it hold AEG Live liable for negligence.
A handful of Jackson fans gathered outside the court, saying they were hoping for justice for the "King of Pop."
Jackson fan Julia Thomas, 40, an office worker from Colton, Calif., said she hoped the trial would demonstrate what she said were the wrongs AEG Live committed against Jackson.
"They’re about to be exposed because they bullied Michael, they stressed him into the grave to the point that he needed sedatives to sleep," Thomas told Reuters.
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