Judge appointed in Conrad Murray case
Michael Jackson's family attended hearing in L.A. on Monday
With Michael Jackson's mother, father and three siblings looking on, Conrad Murray began a slow process toward trial Monday with the appointment of a judge and the setting of another hearing to handle pending matters in his involuntary manslaughter case.
Murray made quick back-to-back appearances in separate courtrooms.
First, Supervising Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza assigned the matter to another judge for all further proceedings. Then, spectators, media and fans followed Murray down to a lower floor where he appeared before Judge Michael Pastor.
Abiding by ethics requirements, Pastor disclosed he had written a recommendation for Deputy District Attorney David Walgren, the prosecutor in the case who has applied for a judgeship.
Pastor said they are not personal friends, and he would not have a conflict in trying the case.
Pastor also said that 27 years ago he was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who is now California's attorney general. Brown's office is seeking to revoke Murray's medical license pending trial.
"This will in no way affect my ability to be a fair and impartial judge in this case," Pastor said.
Lawyers have 10 days to file a challenge against Pastor if they choose.
A large contingent of Jackson family members had been expected but only five appeared. Jackson's mother, Katherine, his father, Joe, and siblings Janet, Jermaine and Randy sat quietly in the spectator section and made no comments to the media.
Trina Saunders, a representative of the attorney general's office, asked that the hearing regarding Murray's medical license be held sooner than June 14, but the judge rejected her request and said all pending matters would be handled on that date.
Earlier, about 50 Jackson fans waved signs and chanted outside the courthouse.
The fans sang "We Are the World," wore T-shirts emblazoned with Jackson's picture and the slogan, "Justice 4 Michael," and carried placards demanding stronger charges against Murray.
Fans in a courthouse hallway called out "Hi Janet" as Janet Jackson arrived.
Murray has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
Normally, such a procedural hearing would draw few spectators.
But with Jackson's death as the backdrop, crowds of fans and media were expected, and Jackson family members have committed to attending all court proceedings against Murray.
Murray's attorneys contend the license issue is critical to his ability to pay for his defense.
The doctor has a history of serious financial problems and his attorneys, Ed Chernoff and Joseph Low, said in a recent court filing that the effect of losing his license would be devastating to Murray.
"He is, without fear of overstatement, hanging on by a thread," the attorneys wrote. "His ability to pay for his own defense depends almost entirely on his ability to continue to treat patients."
Murray, 57, a cardiologist, has clinics in Las Vegas and Houston and also has a license to practice in California. Should his California license be lifted, his lawyers suggest there would be a "domino effect" with other states moving to do the same.
Already, Nevada authorities have filed a formal complaint against Murray saying he twice failed to mention delinquent child support payments on applications to renew his medical license. Miranda Sevcik, spokeswoman for Murray and Chernoff, says Murray's legal team hopes to resolve the complaint in a way that allows the doctor to keep his license.
As a condition of his $75,000 bail, Murray has been ordered not to administer any anesthetic.
Jackson was 50 and about to launch a series of comeback shows in London when he died last June after being rushed to a hospital from his rented mansion. Murray, who signed on in May at $150,000 a month to keep Jackson healthy through the comeback tour, told police he had been treating him for insomnia.
The pop star was found to have died from acute intoxication with the hospital anesthetic propofol and other sedatives as a contributing factor.
Chernoff has said that nothing Murray gave the singer should have killed him.
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