Q&A to give unique insight into Jackson jury pool
FILE - In this April 27, 2011 file photo, Katherine Jackson poses for a portrait in Calabasas, Calif. Direct questioning of potential jurors will begin on Monday April 15, 2013 in Katherine Jackson’s civil trial against concert giant AEG Live. Dozens of potential jurors will be asked about their responses to a lengthy written questionnaire assessing their knowledge of Michael Jackson’s life, death and whether they can sit on a case in which plaintiff’s attorneys may ask for billions of dollars in damages. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When 104 people report for possible jury service on Monday in a lawsuit over Michael Jackson's untimely death, lawyers for the singer's mother and the concert promoter she is suing will already know them well.
Each person will have filled out a 123-question, 24-page questionnaire probing their views not only on Jackson and his famous family, but the singer's life, death, the media and how they feel about multimillion dollar jury verdicts.
It's taken nearly two weeks to collect the potential jurors, who range from a sitting Superior Court judge to retirees and unemployed job-seekers. On Monday, in-person questioning will begin and offer attorneys their final chance to talk to jurors and have them answer back.
Experts say the process known as voir dire — a French phrase meaning to speak the truth — doesn't win or lose a case but is essential for both sides to start framing the case for jurors and weed out anyone hostile to their side.
"I think the first concept to understand with jury selection is it's really more jury de-selection," said Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor who now handles white collar defense cases for the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm.
McRae said attorneys will need to find out who in the group "has the ability to telescope their focus on the sole issues before the court."
"You can't say at the beginning that this wins the case," said John T. Nockleby, director of the Civil Justice Program at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. "But it does set the stage in a way that what the lawyers hope, they have fair-minded, thoughtful citizens."
Unlike the 2011 criminal trial that ended with former cardiologist Conrad Murray's conviction for involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death, the civil case will focus more on the pop singer's possible role in his own demise. The trial will also focus on the "Thriller" singer's troubled finances, and whether AEG wielded too much influence over a cash-strapped Murray.
Murray was convicted of giving Jackson a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol in the singer's bedroom. He had been acting as the superstar's personal physician in advance of a series of comeback concerts titled "This Is It," but the singer and AEG had not signed off on Murray's $150,000 a month contract.
AEG has denied wrongdoing. Its attorney, Marvin S. Putnam, has said the company could not foresee that Murray would give Jackson a hospital-grade anesthetic in the singer's bedroom.
Jackson's mother, Katherine, filed the case on behalf of herself and her son's three children. Their attorneys have pegged the potential damages at $40 billion, but jurors will have to determine any amount the family receives.
The case pits the family of an international superstar against AEG, which has been a major catalyst in the revival of downtown Los Angeles with its Staples Center arena and plans to return professional football to the city.
Several potential jurors have been excused for having business ties to AEG, while one person who manages the son of Jackson's close friend Diana Ross, was also excused.
Brian Panish, who represents Katherine Jackson and is a veteran of numerous large-scale trials, has said repeatedly in court that many of the 104 people in the jury pool have expressed strong opinions on their questionnaires that may get them disqualified.