LOS ANGELES (CNN) — A cache of e-mails believed lost when Michael Jackson’s last manager’s laptop disappeared could become key evidence in the wrongful death trial against AEG Live.
Lawyers for Michael Jackson’s mother and three children don’t know what they’ll find in Frank DiLeo’s e-mails, but they are hoping it will support their contention that DiLeo was beholden to the concert promoter and not to Jackson.
Jackson changed managers twice in the last three months of his life. In late March 2009, he hired Leonard Rowe — one of his father’s friends — to replace Tohme Tohme, the manager who initially negotiated the deal with AEG for his “This Is It” tour.
Jackson lawyers argue that AEG Live forced Jackson to take DiLeo, who had worked for him off and on for decades, as his manager in May 2009 because they did not want to work with Rowe.
Their contention is part of their larger argument that AEG Live executives were liable for Jackson’s death because they hired, retained or supervised Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
AEG counters that it was Jackson who chose and hired Murray, not them. AEG lawyers argue that Jackson was responsible for his own death and that drug addiction led to his bad decisions.
The coroner ruled his death, which came near the end of preparations for a series of comeback concerts, was caused by an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol that Murray was using to treat Jackson’s insomnia.
AEG Live contends its executives had no way of knowing the doctor was using propofol in the privacy of Jackson’s bedroom.
The Jacksons are seeking billions of dollars in damages, equal to what Michael Jackson might have earned if he had not died on June 25, 2009. The Los Angeles trial began three weeks ago and is expected to continue into July.
The lawsuit contends AEG Live ignored warning signs about Jackson’s health in his last weeks, and instead of getting him help they pressured Jackson and Murray to have him at rehearsals. DiLeo would have been part of that pressure, they contend.
“Get him a bucket of chicken,” DiLeo said on June 19, 2009, in reply to concerns about Jackson’s weight loss, makeup artist Karen Faye testified last week. “It was such a cold response, it broke my heart,” Faye said through tears.
The next day — June 20, 2009 — DiLeo left a voice mail on Murray’s cell phone. “I’m sure you’re aware he had an episode last night. He’s sick. Today’s Saturday. Tomorrow, I’m on my way back. I’m not going to continue my trip. I think you need to get a blood test on him. We got to see what he’s doing?”
DiLeo’s e-mails were recovered after what the judge called “a lot of red tape and kind of cloudiness,” that included the AEG’s lawyers also representing the estate of DiLeo, who died in 2011, in fighting the Jacksons’ subpoena for them.
“Because (DiLeo’s widow) didn’t have litigation counsel, we’re representing her for the limited purposes of responding to that subpoena,” AEG’s lead lawyer, Marvin Putnam, told the judge.
Soon after an Ohio court ordered DiLeo’s estate to give his laptop and e-mails to the Jackson lawyers, the AEG lawyers — in their other capacity representing the DiLeo estate — reported that they could not locate the computer or e-mails.
Jackson lawyers, however, learned that the DiLeo estate’s previous lawyer — Pennsylvania lawyer David Regoli — kept a copy of the e-mail files. For the past several weeks, however, the AEG lawyers argued he had no authority to provide them to the Jacksons’ lawyers for use in the case against AEG.
But in a phone call to the court this week, Regoli said he advised DiLeo’s widow, Linda DiLeo, that “in my opinion, it was a conflict” for AEG’s lawyers — from the Los Angeles firm O’Melveny and Myers — to represent her in the matter.
“She said that she never signed anything with O’Melveny and Myers to authorize them to represent her, and as of this moment they are not representing her anymore,” Regoli said.
Linda DiLeo then rehired Regoli, which allows him to send the e-mails on to the Jacksons — after removing any that are personal or not relevant to the case.
“I think I can give the court my assurances that I’ll go through the documents that I have and I’ll go through the e-mails, and anything that is related to the subpoena, I would obviously turn over,” Regoli said.
As for the missing laptop, there was a simple explanation. Linda DiLeo “had told me her daughter had given it to a friend who needed a computer,” Regoli said. “It wasn’t a very new computer.”
While the Jackson lawyers wanted to explore how AEG’s lawyers came to represent the DiLeo estate in Ohio, the judge declined exploring the matter.
“All we know right now they’re not representing her, and that’s enough for us,” Judge Yvette Palazuelos said.
The trial’s fourth week starts Monday morning with AEG’s chief counsel, Shawn Trell, on the witness stand. Jackson lawyers are expected to grill him about the contract negotiations with Michael Jackson and Murray.