Dr. Paul White, an anesthesiologist and expected witness for the defense in the Conrad Murray involuntary manslaughter trial for the death of Michael Jackson, has been present in the courtroom for the testimony of his colleague and former student Dr. Steven Shafer. Shafer is a Professor of Anesthesiology at Columbia University and Editor-in-Chief of the prominent medical journal Anesthesia & Analgesia. White was formerly an anesthesiologist in the Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Management at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and is now Director of the White Mountain Institute, a 501 non-profit dedicated to raising and distributing funds to support “creative endeavors that bring together leaders in the arts and medicine throughout the world”. He is also a section editor for Anesthesia & Analgesia.
The two first met in 1981 when Shafer was a medical student and White was one of his instructors and have been colleagues and, by all accounts, friends for the 30 years since. The two have collaborated on numerous research papers and other publications including a number which dealt with propofol use in clinical anesthesia. As recently as this past March the two collaborated on an editorial in Anesthesia & Analgesia.
That friendly professional relationship may have just come to an end.
Shafer’s testimony, which Law Med has found to be accurate and professional, has buried Conrad Murray up to his neck in guilty. White has yet to testify but has already made his opinion of Shafer’s testimony, and Shafer himself, known….much to the displeasure of the judge. It all began last Thursday with White sitting behind the defense table while Shafer offered testimony. Shafer was physically demonstrating the operation of an IV infusion set-up when Conrad Murray lost it, turning to White saying “Can you believe that?” White then allegedly said to nearby media “What a scumbag”, referring to Shafer. So obvious was the outburst that a break in the proceedings was immediately called by the judge.
White wasn’t done there. Despite a gag order being in place he decided to vent to E! News during that break:
White, who described Shafer as a friend and colleague, tells E! News that Deputy District Attorney David Walgren’s treatment of the evidence has been “unethical and unconscionable.” Shafer’s testimony, however, has changed the way he thinks of him, White says. “I am going to take the high road, not the low road with him,” he adds. “I was his teacher when he was a medical student. The truth will come out. It always does.”
Shafer appears to have had a part in the tiff also. USA Today sums up what happened next very nicely:
Questioned by prosecutor David Walgren on Thursday, Shafer said he was “disappointed” that White, a longtime friend and colleague, had written a report for the defense calling it feasible that Jackson could have died from swallowing propofol. Shafer said the impossibility of swallowed propofol having any effect was “first principles” of medicine taught to “first-year medical students.”
Shafer said he had commissioned a study of human volunteers in Chile that showed oral ingestion of propofol did not induce sleep. The defense did its own study with the same result, and last week dropped its claim that Jackson swallowed propofol.
White, an expert permitted by Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor to be in court through Shafer’s testimony despite an order excluding other potential witnesses, apparently took umbrage at Shafer’s remarks. And Chernoff sallied into Shafer in White’s defense.
The brouhaha became public just after the jury left the courtroom Friday for the mid-afternoon recess. A clearly angry Pastor, citing an online report on E! News, asked White if during a break in testimony Thursday he had said “what a scumbag” in a voice audible to reporters.
White told the judge he did not recall doing so. White did say he had been criticizing Walgren for allegedly “tampering with evidence” by removing part of the top of the propofol bottle found in Jackson’s bedroom. (Walgren said he had done it for “demonstrative” reasons.)
White denied telling E! News reporter Baker Machado (cq) in the hallway that his favorable personal opinion of Shafer had changed. White said he had told the reporter, “Of course, when someone makes derogatory comments about you in court, it affects you.”
The judge read White a quotation of him in the online story that the doctor did not deny. “I am going to take the high road not the low road with him,” White was quoted as saying. “I was his teacher when he was a medical student. The truth will come out. It always does.”
Pastor chastised White, saying, “You have no business making those comments, Dr. White.” Saying he wanted to explore whether White had violated a judicial order against out-of-court comments on the case, he ordered the doctor to appear Nov. 16 at a hearing on whether he should be sanctioned or ruled in contempt of court.
“Was that on TV?” White was overheard asking defense lawyer J. Michael Flanagan outside the courtroom later. The trial is being televised and streamed on the Web. Flanagan said he didn’t know if the cameras were on or off. (Since the jury had left the courtroom, the cameras were off.)
Pastor said White and Shafer could stay in court through each other’s testimony for now, “but let’s be real clear — it’s a short leash,” he said.
Resuming cross-examination, Chernoff accused Shafer of making “dismissive” statements meant to humiliate White because he had topped him on the issue of swallowing propofol. “You preferred to shove it down his professional throat,” Chernoff said.
On an objection by Walgren, Pastor ruled the question out of order.
Christmas card lists are changing as we speak.