Opposing attorneys in civil suits usually get along fine, no matter how angry their clients are with each other.
Not so in the Michael Jackson wrongful death case.
On Monday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos called the attorneys into her chambers after allegations that Brian Panish, the attorney for Michael Jackson’s mother and three children, had made an obscene gesture at Marvin Putnam, the attorney for AEG Live.
The Jacksons say in their suit that AEG is responsible for the singer’s death because it hired and controlled Conrad Murray, the doctor who administered a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to Jackson. AEG says that Murray worked for Jackson and any money it was supposed to give to the doctor was an advance to Jackson.
According to an edited transcript, the conversation in Palazuelos’s chambers went like this:
Palazuelos: “It’s been brought to my attention that there was been some gesturing between counsel, which is inappropriate. Specifically, Mr. Panish, it’s been brought to my attention that you may be gesturing something to Mr. Putnam.
Is that what’s going on?”
Panish: “I don’t think I’ve even gestured anything to Mr. Putnam today.
Putnam: “You’ve given me the finger twice.
Panish: “What? Judge, if I want to give him the finger, I know how to give him the finger.”
Putnam: “And you did it quite well twice.”
Panish: “I was trying — I would tell you; OK? I admit what I do. If I wanted to give you the finger — are you complaining and saying I gave you the finger?
Putnam: “I didn’t.”
Panish: “...I went like this when he was talking (indicating), and all three of [AEG’s attorneys] were interrupting.... I didn’t flip Mr. Putnam the finger or flip him off. If he would like me to, I know how to do it, believe me. I haven’t even talked to Mr. Putnam or made any — did I have any dealings today other than when we came in here?”
Putnam: “No. Your honor, every time that you have raised an issue with Mr. Panish about something that you thought was in terms of civility and dealings between counsel, what immediately occurs, he completely then turns and blames somebody else for something else; OK? And I think that’s not only inappropriate, but it attempts to belie what’s actually going on. And I think the issue raised is an issue. I did not raise this issue with the court, but I will represent that that absolutely occurred and did occur twice.
Panish: “…I have been trying my best, in light of the conduct of counsel, to be civil. I’ve never had an issue in 100 jury trials with civility until this case…. I didn’t give Mr. Putnam the finger. If he wants me to give him the finger, I’m happy to do that. Now, have I been upset with them? Yes, absolutely. Was I upset with their witnesses? Absolutely. No question. I don’t deny that.
Palazuelos: Well, I haven’t seen it, but if that’s going on, it’s got to stop. It really does.