AEG Live scored a massive victory on Wednesday afternoon, as the jury of its civil trial found the concert promoter not liable in the death of pop superstar Michael Jackson. But with the Jackson family estate almost certain to appeal, questions remain about where this long running legal drama is headed next, and it appears the story is far from over.
Responding to the questionnaire put before them to establish liability for the singer's death, the jury today gave unanimous reactions to the first two questions (of 16) asked. A "yes" answer was required for all of the first five questions in order for AEG to be found liable .
To question #1: Did AEG Live hire Dr. Conrad Murray? — The jury answered: Yes
But for question #2: Was Dr. Conrad Murray unfit or incompetent to perform his duties? — The jury returned a "No" answer.
That response brought an end to the proceedings, letting AEG Live walk away clean. Presiding Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos then thanked the jurors "from the bottom of my heart" and referred to them as "model citizens" for their five months of service.
In a statement released immediately after the decision was read, AEG Live lead counsel Marvin Putnam of O'Melveny & Myers LLP said, "The jury's decision completely vindicates AEG Live, confirming what we have known from the start — that although Michael Jackson's death was a terrible tragedy, it was not a tragedy of AEG Live's making … There was simply no evidence that anyone at AEG did anything wrong … Some people make the mistake of looking at AEG Live as an easy target due to their size and presence in Los Angeles. That's a mistake."
On the other side, however, the Jackson family made clear they do not necessarily see this as the end of the line. "We are evaluating everything at this time and will then decide," attorney Brian Panish said following the verdict. "We are disappointed by the verdict but respect the jury system."
So what does this ruling mean for both AEG Live and the Jackson family estate? Omg! spoke with two attorneys not involved with this case to get their takes.
Darren Kavinoky a criminal defense attorney at The Kavinoky Law Firm in California, also a TV legal analyst, frequent keynote speaker, and the creator and host of "Deadly Sins" on Investigation Discovery, notes, "Given the inevitability of an appeal, this case is not yet over. Some of the issues that were most contentious in the court of public opinion, namely whether Jackson himself bore some responsibility for his own demise, were never reached."
Could the tricky phrasing of the questions have influenced the outcome? "Legal analysts have opined that the wording of the jury question could have impacted this result," Kavinoky continued. "Since it caused jurors to focus simply on whether he was competent at the time of hiring, and didn't speak to the over-prescribing and reckless conduct that led to the criminal conviction for manslaughter."
Speaking as a group outside of the courthouse after their verdict was delivered, members of the jury addressed that issue. "The question was over whether or not Dr. Murray was competent. We found that he was," the jury foreman Gregg Barden said. "(He) had a license, he graduated from an accredited college, and we felt that he was competent of doing the job of being a general practitioner."
"Now That doesn’t mean we felt he was ethical," Barden continued. "If ethical was in the question, it could have been a different outcome. In the end, he was very unethical. He did something he shouldn’t have done."
Still yet, he admitted, "Question #2 was confusing."
Kavinoky points out that the most awaited opinion, however, could be coming shortly.
"Trial watchers won't have long to wait to hear perhaps the most interesting interview concerning this case: Dr. Murray himself! Conrad Murray is expected to be released from custody in approximately three weeks. Stay tuned!"
Tanya Acker, an attorney at Goldberg Lowenstein & Weatherwax LLP, has followed the case closely and believes an appeal is in the works. "An appeal is inevitable and the plaintiffs are already gearing up for it," she says. "While the jury's finding that Murray was competent may seem surprising in the context of Murray's criminal trial, that competency finding isn't necessarily inconsistent with the criminal verdict. Someone who is generally competent may nonetheless act negligently, even criminally, in particular circumstances."
Tune in to "omg! Insider" Thursday night for more expert analysis about the trial.