LOS ANGELES: King of Pop Michael Jackson's mother is seeking billions of dollars from tour promoter AEG Live over her son's 2009 death, in a trial that will finally get underway in Los Angeles in April.
Jury selection begins on Tuesday for the trial, in which Katherine Jackson accuses AEG of negligently hiring doctor Conrad Murray to look after her son as he prepared for a doomed series of London shows.
Murray, jailed after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 for giving the singer an overdose of the drug propofol, could be called to testify, although he may refuse to do so, lawyers have suggested.
The 82-year-old Jackson matriarch herself, as well as the late pop star's two elder children, will also give evidence in the trial that comes nearly four years after his death, and could last more than two months.
The trial could also broach child molestation allegations against Jackson, after the trial judge allowed such evidence even though the singer was acquitted of charges in 2005.
Jackson died at his LA mansion on June 25, 2009 aged 50, from an overdose of the powerful sedative propofol, administered by Murray to help the “Thriller” legend deal with chronic insomnia.
At the time of his death, he was rehearsing for a series of 50 shows in London, organized with Anschutz Entertainment Group in what was seen as an attempt to revive his career, and also to ease his financial woes.
Jackson's mother claims that AEG Live pushed her son too hard to prepare for the London shows.
But AEG claims that Jackson had a history of drug abuse long before the singer met Murray, hired to care for him before and during the shows at London's O2 Arena.
The wrongful death trial on Katherine Jackson's civil lawsuit — filed in September 2010 — was put off until after Murray's 2011 criminal trial was over, and legal wrangling also delayed a scheduled September start.
Lawyers have notably argued over what should and should not be admitted in evidence.
LA Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos has granted an AEG demand for testimony about the child molestation charges to be heard — which Katherine Jackson says are irrelevant — claiming it could explain the star's stress and medical woes.
But she has refused to allow testimony notably about the parentage of Jackson's three children, or a bizarre incident in which his mother was allegedly kidnapped by family members and taken to Arizona last year.
Murray may be called from prison to give a deposition, but only with the jury out of the courtroom. And he may invoke his Fifth Amendment right to decline to testify in case it might incriminate him further.
AEG says it was not responsible for hiring and supervising Murray, who treated Jackson with propofol and other drugs to tackle his insomnia as he rehearsed in LA, and was to accompany him to London for the doomed shows.
According to celebrity news website TMZ, Jackson's mother and his three children —Prince, 16, Paris, 14 and 11-year-old “Blanket” — want more than $40 billion from AEG for loss of future earnings and other damages.
AEG claims the figure is “preposterous” because Jackson's career was in a downward spiral following the child molestation allegations as well as self-imposed exile in the Middle East, TMZ reported.
Broadcasters CNN and NBC are pressing for the judge to allow live coverage, noting that it was granted for the Murray trial two years ago. Their lawyers will press her again on Tuesday, after she denied a CNN request on March 7.
“Michael Jackson undoubtedly was one of the most famous entertainers (who) ever lived. His sudden death... sent shockwaves around the world, with intense public interest in understanding what caused his untimely demise,” they said.
“Without cameras, second-hand accounts and opinions dominate; with cameras, members of the public can see for themselves what transpires in the courtroom, providing the most accurate and dignified portrayal of the judicial system.”