Sep. 9, 2013 at 3:36 PM ET
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Monday dismissed two executives from a $40-billion negligence lawsuit filed by the late Michael Jackson's mother against the concert promoters in charge of his 2009 comeback tour.
Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled that lawyers for Katherine Jackson have not proven claims that AEG Live chief executive officer Randy Phillips and promoter Paul Gongaware can be held responsible the death of the pop star on June 25, 2009. But the case against AEG will go on, leaving the jury to determine whether AEG hired Dr. Conrad Murray, the cardiologist who is serving a prison sentence for giving Michael Jackson the overdose of propofol that caused the singer's death. It was Murray's job to oversee Jackson throughout his rehearsals and the tenure of his 50-night tour in London.
During the trial, Katherine Jackson's lawyers blamed Phillips and Gongaware for missing or ignoring signs about the superstar's quickly declining health. Both men were key witnesses in the trial. AEG denies any wrongdoing, and has argued that Jackson hired Murray and that any money the company was supposed to pay the doctor was an advance to the singer.
In an e-mail presented during the trial, Phillips referred to Murray as "extremely successful and does not need this gig." But testimony later reflected that the company did little to check out Murray, who closed his practice to serve as Jackson's tour physician and was deep in debt and facing foreclosure on his home.
In another important e-mail shown to the jury, Gongaware wrote 11 days before Michael Jackson died: "We want to remind him [Murray] that it is AEG, not MJ who is paying his salary. We want him to understand what is expected of him." Gongaware helped negotiate Murray's contract,
Although both men have been removed from the lawsuit, AEG could still be liable for billions of dollars. It is not unusual at the end of civil cases for judges to eliminate individual defendants since it's the companies that pay the damages anyway.
In pre-trial hearings, Katherine Jackson was asked why she did not sue Murray. She responded that the singer's three children, who are also plaintiffs in the case, believed the doctor to be a "good person" and did not want to sue him. AEG countered that the Jackson family left Murray out of the lawsuit because he's broke.
The trial, now going into its fifth month, is expected to conclude at the end of the month. Closing arguments are expected to take place next week.