Remember the time … Michael Jackson rehearses for the This Is It tour in LA in 2009. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/AP
As the trial into Michael Jackson's ill-fated This Is It tour continues, it has been claimed that AEG promoter Kenny Ortega was working without a contract.
The late singer's mother, Katherine Jackson, is attempting to show in court that the promoters were negligent in hiring Conrad Murray, the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter over Jackson's death in June 2009. But in the latest development AEG's general counsel, Shawn Tell, has told jurors that Ortega, the tour's director, was working on the basis of an agreement solely laid out via emails.
Ms Jackson claims that AEG failed to properly investigate Murray before hiring him to serve as her son's tour physician, and that the company ignored or missed warning signs about the singer's health. AEG denies that it hired Murray in the first place.
In court, Ms Jackson's lawyers presented emails sent a month before the death of her son in which Murray's contract terms were laid out. But Trell claimed that the evidence did not demonstrate an employment relationship – a crucial factor in the case. And while Trell acknowledged that Ortega was paid for his work on the shows, he claimed that this was only on the basis of the terms laid out in a series of emails. "Kenny Ortega is different from Conrad Murray," he said.
Michael Jackson died before signing a $150,000-a-month contract for Murray to serve as his doctor on the series of concerts, planned to take place at London's 02 arena in the summer of 2009. AEG's lawyers say Jackson's signature was required to finalise Murray's contract.
An email displayed in court showed Murray's contract terms. Other documents indicated AEG budgeted $300,000 to pay Murray for his work with Jackson in May and June of 2009.
Another email said executive Paul Gongaware informed colleagues that Murray would be "full-time" on the tour by mid-May. Plaintiff's attorney Brian Panish asked Trell to agree with a statement that Murray was working for AEG.
"I would totally disagree with that statement," Trell said, noting that Ortega and Murray were considered independent contractors. He also testified that the company obtained an insurance policy that covered the possible cancellation of some of the shows after the singer was evaluated by doctors. Trell testified that five days before Jackson's death, top AEG executives were informed the singer was in poor health. By that point, Ortega had sent executives an email titled "Trouble at the front", detailing Jackson's problems. "There are strong signs of paranoia, anxiety and obsessive-like behavior," Ortega wrote to AEG Live's CEO, Randy Phillips.
Now into its fourth week, the trial continues.