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Controversy at Michael Jackson death trial

CNN News Wire | 5/22/2013, 8:42 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Every issue in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial is so disputed that even giving candy to jurors caused an argument.

AEG lawyers gave a bag of peppermint candy to the bailiff to hand out to the jury this week. Even Katherine Jackson -- the pop icon's mother -- enjoyed the treat.

But Jackson's lawyer raised an objection Tuesday afternoon, suggesting jurors might be influenced if they realized the source of the sweets.

A compromise was reached. Each side can provide snacks for jurors, but they'll be placed at the bailiff's desk before jurors enter court so they have no clue who brought it.

While the candy controversy might seem trivial, the stakes are high for AEG Live. The promoter and producer of Michael Jackson's comeback concerts could be found liable for billions of dollars in damages if the jury decides the company is responsible for the star's death.

Jackson's mother and three children are suing AEG Live for the negligent hiring, retention or supervision of Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death.

The candy argument may be the most interesting thing about Tuesday's proceedings, unless you are a student of employment law and budgeting.

AEG Live Senior Vice President/General Counsel Shawn Trell was on the stand for a second day hoping to give testimony that would convince the jury that Murray was chosen, hired and supervised by Jackson -- not his company.

Murray never had an executed contract with AEG Live, although one had been negotiated. The doctor signed it and returned it to the company on June 24, 2009, but the AEG Live executive decided not to sign it after Jackson died the next day.

Jackson lawyers contend Murray was already on the job, working under an oral agreement confirmed by a series of e-mails that promised him $150,000 a month to be Jackson's full-time physician.

With Trell on the stand, Jackson lawyer Brian Panish played part of an interview that AEG Live President Randy Phillips gave to Sky News television soon after Jackson's death.

"This guy was willing to leave his practice for a very large sum of money, so we hired him," Phillips said.

Panish also showed jurors an e-mail between AEG lawyers suggesting that Phillips told other interviewers AEG Live "hired" Murray.

Trouble at the Front
The Jackson lawyers argue that AEG Live executives ignored a series of "red flags" that should have alerted them that Jackson needed help as he prepared for his comeback concerts.

Earlier testimony from Jackson's makeup artist, choreographer and an associate director described his failing health and mental condition in the last two weeks of his life.

Panish asked Trell about e-mails titled "trouble at the Front" between AEG executives and people working on the production starting on June 19, 2009 -- a night that show director Kenny Ortega sent Jackson home because of his strange behavior.

"He was a basket case and Kenny was concerned he would embarrass himself on stage, or worse yet -- get hurt," production director John "Bugsy" Houghdahl wrote to AEG Live top execs Randy Phillips and Paul Gongaware. "The company is rehearsing right now, but the DOUBT is pervasive."