Conrad Murray’s Defense, Judge Spar Over Witnesses
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge overseeing the upcoming Michael Jackson trial questioned defense attorneys Thursday about why they were not preparing reports and statements on possible witnesses and said he may penalize them if more information isn’t turned over to prosecutors.
Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor spent more than an hour dealing with evidence and witness issues in the case of Dr. Conrad Murray, who has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of Jackson.
Pastor bristled when defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan said he did not prepare any notes on likely witnesses, including forensic experts.
Flanagan told Pastor he hadn’t prepared such notes for trials for at least 10 years.
Flanagan contended that California trial laws don’t require him to prepare reports on witness interviews to hand over to prosecutors.
Pastor disagreed, saying the strategy appeared to undermine rules intended to prevent surprises during testimony at trial.
“It is a recipe for disaster,” Pastor said. “We don’t do trials based upon memory.”
The judge rejected a request by prosecutor Deborah Brazil to vacate the scheduled start of Murray’s trial in late March over the issue.
She argued there was no way the doctor’s defense team could be prepared for trial if they had not yet written and handed over reports.
Pastor ordered attorneys to return to court on Monday to further discuss witness statements and other possible evidence.
The judge also told Flanagan and defense attorney Ed Chernoff there could be consequences — including sanctions, a delay of trial or exclusion of witnesses — if the lawyers did not give prosecutors more details about their case.
Chernoff said they intend to call several of Murray’s patients as character witnesses to rebut an anticipated attempt by prosecutors to paint Murray as a reckless physician who gave Jackson a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol.
Coroner’s officials determined the singer died from acute propofol intoxication. The anesthetic is normally given in hospital settings, but Murray was using it as a sleep aid in the bedroom of Jackson’s rented mansion.
Flanagan said one defense expert is likely to claim Jackson was addicted to Demerol and was suffering from withdrawal when he died.
Brazil said there was no evidence of that, and Pastor questioned how an expert could come to that conclusion without making any notes.
“I’m just finding it very difficult to believe that a renowned forensic expert in any subject is going to take the stand without notes in front of him or her,” Pastor said.
The judge deferred ruling on whether attorney Nareg Gourjian can join Murray’s defense team.
Gourjian was a former associate of celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, who represented Jackson from 2003 to 2005 when the singer was accused of child molestation. Gourjian left the case before Jackson’s trial, which ended with his acquittal.
Geragos said he would not voice concerns about Gourjian defending Murray in open court, and Pastor agreed to meet with him in closed session next week. Gourjian was ordered to prepare a sworn statement detailing exactly what he had done on Jackson’s case.
Gourjian has said he did little work on the case.
In a separate matter, attorneys for Jackson’s mother, Katherine, told a judge handling a wrongful death lawsuit against concert promoter AEG Live that they would not pursue civil conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against AEG Live.
AEG was organizing a planned series of comeback concerts titled “This Is It,” when Jackson died in June 2009.
A civil court judge ruled earlier this month that Katherine Jackson could not pursue the claims without amending her lawsuit, but the case could continue with allegations that AEG failed to properly supervise Murray.
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