Saying he was concerned about the sharing of evidence among attorneys, a Los Angeles judge Monday threatened to penalize lawyers in the criminal case against Dr. Conrad Murray, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with singer Michael Jackson's death.
During a pretrial hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said he was considering penalties ranging from fines of $1,500 per day per lawyer, a possible delay in the scheduled March 24 trial date, inclusion of jury instructions in the case about "tardy discovery" and -- as a last resort -- preclusion of some witnesses from testifying.
"I seriously am considering all sorts of responses to the discovery situation," the judge said. "... I want to emphasize I am considering very seriously the imposition of monetary sanctions at this point."
The judge noted that he did not want to punish Murray.
Pastor, who has heard persistent complaints from both sides about evidence that has not been turned over, said he was "extremely distressed."
The judge questioned defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan on what the defense had done to meet its obligation to turn over information about witnesses it intends to present during trial.
Pastor said he also wants more information from the prosecution about surveillance videotape footage from Jackson's rented Holmby Hills estate.
The judge scheduled another hearing Wednesday and ordered Murray and his lead attorney, Ed Chernoff, to attend. Neither were on hand for Monday's hearing.
The judge noted that it is a "two-way street" for prosecutors and defense attorneys to exchange information about the case.
"I expect a dramatically increased production of discovery between now and then," Pastor said of the upcoming hearing Wednesday.
During the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Deborah Brazil said defense attorneys turned over 526 pages of discovery last week, but 380 of them involved probate issues, and she was unclear of their relevance to the case.
Flanagan countered that the defense was in the process of meeting its obligation to turn over reports and statements from proposed witnesses, but added that the defense would still be preparing its case even after trial starts.
"It's an ongoing thing and it's going to be an ongoing thing," Flanagan told the judge, noting at one point that the defense has been unable to get some evidence it wants from the prosecution.
Brazil countered that the defense was "not ready for trial," and Deputy District Attorney David Walgren echoed Brazil's call from last week for the March 24 trial date to be vacated. The judge has not ruled on that request, saying the District Attorney's Office would need to provide him with "some authority for that proposition."
Murray, 58, is charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Jackson's death at age 50, amid a series of rehearsals in Los Angeles for an upcoming series of sold-out concerts in London.
Murray is accused of administering the powerful anesthetic propofol to the singer to help him sleep, then failing to properly monitor him.
Jackson was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m. on June 25, 2009, after doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center unsuccessfully tried to revive him. Paramedics who responded to the entertainer's rented Holmby Hills estate about two hours earlier said he appeared to have been dead for 20 minutes to an hour.
Murray proclaimed himself "an innocent man" during a Jan. 25 court hearing, two weeks after he was ordered to stand trial following a six-day preliminary hearing.