APRIL 8, 2013 update re: MICHAEL JACKSON CIVIL TRIAL — No Cameras in the Courtroom

by feldmanwallach

The Court has already decided to not have cameras in the Courtroom. The decision as to whether media organizations can bring cameras in the courtroom is, under California state law, left entirely up to the trial judge. The organization fills out a “MC-500” “Media Request to Photograph, Record, or Broadcast” application and proposed order and the parties can support or oppose the request, and the judge will decide. Here, the Jackson family wanted the trial images broadcasted, but AEG Live argued that it would create a media circus, with tons of Michael Jackson fans at the courthouse, and create a huge risk for witness tampering and even pose a serious threat to the health and safety of AEG’s counsel and witnesses. AEG’s counsel, Marvin Putnam, brought the fact that a witness banned from being present at the Conrad Murray trial for being disruptive and threatening witnesses had been present at a hearing in this very trial.
AEG’s reply brief further argues that rather than go through the many factors that a court should determine in deciding whether media access should be allowed, the plaintiffs instead engaged in an attack on Mr. Putnam’s character, including his decision to appear on CNN. However, Kevin Boyle, one of the Jackson family’s attorneys, also appeared on television (and had agreed to prior to Mr. Putnam agreeing to be interviewed). The tone of the attacks and response is more evidence of how nasty this trial will be (as a general rule, for reasons I have a hard time understanding, conduct between attorneys in civil cases is far less “civil” than conduct between attorneys in criminal ones).There are other risks to having microphones and cameras in the courtroom as well — as today’s electronic equipment is so sensitive that confidential communications can easily be intercepted.
I agree with the judge’s decision, and think that cameras inside celebrity trials can interfere with the judicial process and also makes it harder for the lawyers to perform their job. The line-up of potential celebrity witnesses (Prince, Osbourne, the Jackson children) would render this one of the most popular events on television and mandate crowd control outside of a courtroom that is drastically underfunded and short on resources. Plus, inside the courtroom, jurors might focus on the media employees when they are supposed to be watching the witnesses. It could also damage an attorney’s capacity to provide a zealous defense. Sometimes lawyers have to be tough against witnesses. Members of the general public are not likely to send hate mail or heckle Prosecutor Juan Martinez outside of a courtroom after he badgers a witness in the Jody Arias murder trial — but the same may not be true of an attorney who is tough on a child or friend of a beloved celebrity.

The Jury Questionnaire

The jury pool (currently at about 60 potential jurors, and expected to grow to about 100) has been given a 29-page, 123 question questionnaire. http://amradaronline.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/katherine-jackson-vs-aeg-jury-questionnaire.pdf.

Jury questionnaires assist the court in the “Voir Dire” process – a process that, in theory, is designed to help the Court and counsel remove jurors that may be predisposed to one side or another. But in practice, Voir Dire is the only time that lawyers get to directly communicate with jurors, and it’s where solid lawyers begin to sell the themes that they hope will last throughout the trial and to the verdict. This questionnaire illustrates that this game is well underway.

Initially, the questionnaire asks basic juror questions (area you live, highest level of education, if you are in school, what your job is, etc.). Jurors are asked if they know other jurors, the lawyers, or anyone else that might be involved in this case or with the legal system in general. It asks questions about whether the potential juror has received any medical or legal training – which can help determine whether a juror will (properly) be limited to the evidence and knowledge presented, or will (improperly) rely on external facts – things they know that were not presented at trial. It asks about the educational level of others in their home — as the jury won’t be “sequestered” (kept away from the public), so naturally their opinions have been, and will continue to be, formed by those around them.

Smartly, jurors are asked if they blog, or have written to media outlets. This is a quick way for the court to weed out jurors that could be lured into improperly providing information before the trial is over, which could not only result in that juror being removed, but could also result in a mistrial, a tremendous waste of money and court resources. It also asks if they’ve ever suffered extreme financial hardship, which could be another way of finding out which jurors might be susceptible to improper premature requests for information, (or, even worse, improperly exercising their power as a juror). It also asks if they or their family members or friends have worked for media agencies.

The questions then help the lawyers see factors that identify whether a juror is pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant. It asks about political views – conservative, middle, or liberal. It asks their views on the legal system (Are there too many cases? Are verdicts too high? Should their be caps on damages?). It asks about children and grandchildren.

Then come questions that are clearly included to both weed out biased jurors and help set out each party’s theme. For example:
WOULD YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO AWARD MULTI MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO PLAINTIFFS WHO SUE FOR THE DEATH OF A FAMILY MEMBER, EVEN IF PLAINTIFFS PROVED THEIR CASE? DOES YOUR ANSWER TO THE ABOVE CHANGE BECAUSE THE PLAINTIFF’S IN THIS CASE ARE MICHAEL JACKSON’S FAMILY (KATHERINE, PRINCE, PARIS, AND BLANKET?) (I think Jackson’s attorney scored points framing this question by using the plaintiffs’ first names and nicknames, instead of formal names, as it already begins to induce sympathy).

“DO YOU THINK OFTEN BLAME OTHERS FOR THEIR OWN PROBLEMS, RATHER THAN TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN ACTIONS” (the central theme of the defense is that Michael Jackson hired and controlled Dr. Murray, not AEG).

DO YOU HOLD THE OPINION THAT IF SOMEONE DIES UNEXPECTEDLY, IT IS USUALLY THE RESULT OF SOMEONE’S NEGLIGENCE? (Jurors frequently have to wrestle with the sad and frightening truth that people die young. And that is an easier reality to accept if you can blame someone for else for it, even when there may be no fault at all, or the fault may lie with the decedent. This question helps the defense weed out those who don’t wish to accept that, in nature, people can die you without the fault of third parties).
Many questions are about how people perceive celebrities – do they think celebrities can act as they please, abuse their power, bend the rules, etc. All of these questions support the defendants theme that Michael, not AEG, had control over Dr. Murray. Conversely, there are questions asking if famous musicians have too much power placed on them to perform, and whether they are victims of the practices of entertainment executives (supporting the theme of the Jackson family – that Michael Jackson’s death was actually the result of AEG’s control over Dr. Murray).

The 29 page, 123 question questionnaire asks about jurors’ thoughts on drug addiction, recovery, responsibility, reliance on physician’s advice, and, most importantly, if they’ve already formed an opinion as to who is responsible for Michael Jackson’s death. The questionnaire is another example of what the core legal and factual issues will be — legally — who controlled Dr. Murray when Michael Jackson died (AEG or Michael Jackson:), and factually — will the jury be emotionally-biased and be inclined, no matter what the law is, to compensate the family of a beloved icon who died too soon?

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