A series of controversial leaked e-mails related to Michael Jackson's doomed "This Is It" residency in London -- involving promoter AEG Live president Randy Phillips, Concerts West co-president Paul Gongaware, and "This Is It" director Kenny Ortega -- have spurred much industry discussion and more than a little confusion. The e-mails -- which detail an intense back-and-forth between producers and Jackson's camp, addressing his at times unsteady condition at rehearsals and concern about his ability to pull off 50 shows -- were first published in the Los Angeles Times last week in an article AEG attorney Marvin Putman calls "misleading and inaccurate."
The residency was to have begun in July of 2009 at London's O2 Arena, with more than $85 million worth of tickets already sold when Jackson died on June 25. As expected, the legal wrangling around the shows have continued, now three years after Jackson's death. A wrongful-death lawsuit was filed by Jackson's mother Katherine and his three children against AEG, saying the producers should be held liable for Jackson's death, not only because of the toll the rehearsals took on the 50-year-old pop star, but also because AEG hired Dr. Conrad Murray, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death.
In a development Putnam says is unrelated to the release of the e-mails, word came yesterday that AEG had dropped its $17.5 million insurance claim covering the performances.
"We said from the very beginning that any money should be paid to the estate, not to us, and we told them definitively in June that we're not claiming any losses here, i.e, we've recouped any losses," says Putnam. AEG shared in revenue from the "This Is It" film, DVD and CD, and also recouped from other sources, including merchandise and tickets that were never refunded. "So that lawsuit really doesn't have anything to do with us. It's totally moot to us and has been for years, but it's not moot to the estate, obviously."
Regarding what was leaked to the Times, Putnam says the e-mails were clearly linked to discovery on the Katherine Jackson case, not the insurance case. "When discovery started in earnest in the insurance case in May, we let them know by June that we were no longer pursuing the claim because we'd now been made whole," says Putnam.
The e-mails came from documents that "only Katherine Jackson and her attorneys had access to; we gave them to them and only them," says Putnam. "And somebody, I don't know who, seems to have told the L.A. Times [those documents] were [related to] the insurance case, but they didn't realize the documents in the Katherine Jackson case are not all the same as the documents in the insurance case. I was very quickly able to ascertain those are all from the Katherine Jackson case."
Putnam says that "Howard Mann- a longtime business partner of the Jackson family- suddenly came forward to announce that he leaked the confidential documents to the press. It's convenient that Howard Mann came forward in this fashion. Like the many who have already commented on the ridiculous statement that Mr. Mann somehow acted alone, we too believe this is impossible. In fact, we know it. As we said in our motion to the Court asking that there be an investigation into this violation, we know that only Katherine Jackson and her attorneys had the set of documents impermissibly leaked to the Los Angeles Times."
A lawyer for Katherine Jackson, Kevin Boyle, told CNN that Mann's admission that he was the source of the e-mails should settle the matter. "He (Mann) definitely never received any documents from Katherine, Prince, Paris, or Blanket Jackson, nor from their lawyers in the wrongful death suit against AEG," he said. "AEG made these accusations against the Jackson family and their lawyers apparently without doing even the most rudimentary investigation."
(Mann, a memorabilia dealer who operated websites using Jackson's image, and the singer's estate reached a $2.5 million copyright settlement last week. Mann was found liable for infringing Jackson's intellectual property in a court ruling in August.)
Even so, Putnam says the Times story supports AEG's case. "The story acknowledges, for instance, that Dr. Conrad Murray was Michael Jackson's long-term physician, and that it was Michael Jackson who demanded to bring him on tour," he says. "The story also acknowledges that no agreement with Dr. Murray was ever signed, and that Dr. Murray was never paid by AEG."
Whatever their context or source, the e-mails seem to tell the story of a producer trying to make sure a big show with huge upfront costs comes off. "Nobody is telling the story properly," says Putnam. "Let's take what they've leaked: the night before his return to the world stage after 10 years, he goes out and gets drunk," referring an email Phillips purportedly wrote stating that Jackson was "drunk and despondent" the night before a March 2009 press conference announcing the "This Is It" dates. "He's a 50 year-old man with a reputation for being nervous, I don't think anybody's going to find that surprising."
Other e-mails between Phillips and Ortega show the latter expressing major concerns about Jackson's condition at rehearsal. According to Putnam, those particular e-mails show only "that during one rehearsal on one night about a month before it's going to open in London, [Jackson is] in bad shape. We then call the doctor, who says basically, 'Stay out of my purview'; we don't take that under face value, we go in meetings with Michael the next day, he's clear, he's lucid."
It should be noted that performance contracts are not a one-way street; AEG had to hold up their end of the bargain, as well. "After one night of a bad rehearsal a month in advance, [as producers] we can't pull out, that would be breach of contract," says Putnam. "Moreover, his next two performances at rehearsals were brilliant."
Putnam also points out the absence of any mention of drug abuse by Jackson in the e-mails. "None of this stuff that was released has anything to do with Propofol -- and let's remember what killed him," Putnam says. "He died from acute Propofol overdose, and none of this stuff is about that, there's no connection here."
As to why he believes the e-mails were leaked in the first place, Putnam says, "They're afraid, rightly, that they have no legal case. They're trying mix things up out there in the world for public opinion, [and] the jury pool. But what a jury might find upsetting is very different from whether or not there is a legal claim, and this is a legal claim here."
Putnam would not describe the interview as damage control. "This is a real and proper sense of outrage at the idea that a court order has been violated and selective documents have been released to the public," he says. "That is never supposed to happen."
The attorney also believes that Phillips and AEG have been wrongly portrayed. "To have Randy or anybody at AEG painted as in some way not being talent-friendly or is mistreating talent or whatnot, I think it places a false responsibility on Randy and AEG," he says. "Our job is to go out and promote and present concerts. That's what we do. We're not talent managers, there's a lot of things we're not, and what we're certainly not are medical professionals. We don't have a society where people are expected to intervene in other people's personal lives, nor should we have such a thing."