LOS ANGELES – A judge said Monday that Michael Jackson’s longtime attorney and a family friend should take over the pop singer’s estate for now, rejecting a request from Jackson’s mother to be put in charge or share control.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff backed attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain, who had been designated in Jackson’s 2002 will as the people he wanted to administer his estate. Attorneys for the pop singer’s mother repeatedly objected to their appointment at Monday’s court hearing.
“It’s our desire to do everything we can to carry out Michael Jackson’s wishes and to maximize the estate,” said Howard Weitzman, who spoke after the hearing on behalf of Branca. Weitzman issued a statement later calling the judge’s ruling “the correct decision.”
The singer’s mother, Katherine Jackson, had applied to oversee her son’s estate, but that was before the 2002 will surfaced. Her attorney, Burt Levitch, expressed concerns about McClain and Branca’s financial leadership.
Jackson died June 25, deeply in debt. But a court filing estimates that his estate will be worth more than US$500 million. His assets are destined for a private trust.
A public memorial has been scheduled for Jackson in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday. Dozens of police officers and a fire truck were parked outside Dodger Stadium on Monday, where ticket winners could start picking up their coveted passes to the Staples Center ceremony.
More than 1.6 million people registered to win the free tickets – two per person – and only 8,750 names were chosen. Los Angeles officials are concerned about other fans clogging city streets.
Representatives for Jackson’s family released a list of participants Monday that includes Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Kobe Bryant, Brooke Shields, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Lionel Richie, John Mayer, Usher, Jennifer Hudson and Martin Luther King III and his sister Bernice.
One person who won’t be at the memorial is Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children. She had planned to attend, but backed out Monday.
“The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michael’s legacy,” Rowe attorney Marta Almli said in a statement. “Debbie will continue to celebrate Michael’s memory privately.”
Lucky fans celebrated when they got an email saying they had scored the hottest ticket in town. “Congratulations, your application was successful,” said the message sent to Deka Motanya, 27, of San Francisco.
She immediately Twittered: “OMG OMG OMG OMG i got tickets to the michael jackson memorial service.
Throughout Monday, both eBay and Craigslist removed posts on their respective sites that attempted to sell tickets to the memorial service.
On eBay, bids were reaching as high as $3,000, though it was impossible to verify the seriousness of those offers. On Craigslist, asking prices also were in the thousands. Some unable to attend simply wanted to give away their tickets – as one post read – “to only true fans.”
Jackson’s family had wanted Beckloff, the judge in the estate case, to delay the appointment of McClain and Branca as temporary administrators of the pop superstar’s estate, a person close to the Jacksons said.
The family wanted more time to look deeper into Michael Jackson’s affairs, to see if another will emerges, and to accommodate Jackson’s memorial service, said a person close to the family who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.
Katherine Jackson’s attorneys also had asked that she be appointed to serve as a co-administrator with Branca and McClain. Beckloff refused to grant that request, too.
The authority Branca and McClain have on Jackson’s estate will expire Aug. 3, when another hearing will be held. “Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain for the next month are at the helm of the ship,” Beckloff said.
Attorneys also disclosed that another Jackson will from 1997 has been lodged with the court, but will only become a factor if the 2002 will is invalidated. Details of the older will were not disclosed.
Levitch, an attorney for Katherine Jackson, told Beckloff that Branca had previously been removed from financial positions of authority by Jackson. Branca’s attorney says he was rehired by Jackson on June 17, days before Jackson’s death.
Katherine Jackson did not appear at Monday’s hearing. Branca did attend.
Levitch said it was unclear whether McClain would serve as an administrator because he was of ailing health. Attorneys for McClain and Branca described him as having a physical disability but having a completely sound mind. They also noted a decades-long relationship with the Jackson family.
The judge granted Branca and McClain several powers over the estate, including the rights to negotiate a settlement with concert promoter AEG Live over refunds for Jackson’s cancelled London shows. Beckloff stressed that Katherine Jackson should be given complete information about major transactions, but that he as the judge would grant final approval.
John E. Schreiber, an attorney for Katherine Jackson, said, “Frankly, Mrs. Jackson has concerns about handing over the keys to the kingdom.”
Michael Jackson owned a 50 per cent stake in the massive Sony-ATV Music Publishing Catalog, which includes music by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers.
Branca had a 5 per cent interest in the catalogue in September 2005, according to Uniform Commercial Code filings in New York, but his interest was terminated in December 2007.
Katherine Jackson’s lawyers had argued in court that she needed to be special administrator of the estate to be able to determine if Branca and McClain had other dealings with Jackson or his partners that could be construed as a conflict of interest.
Paul Gordon Hoffman, an attorney for Branca and McClain, said some of Katherine Jackson’s concerns were unfounded.
“We’re not aware of any real conflicts at all,” he said in response to a claim that the men may have business dealings with parties such as concert promoter AEG Live.
In contrast, Hoffman said Jackson’s mother had more of a potential conflict administering the estate because she is a likely beneficiary.
“If there are any conflicts by the parties, Katherine Jackson rather than Mr. McClain and Mr. Branca have them,” Hoffman said.
Beckloff noted the contentious relationship brewing between Katherine Jackson and Branca, who personally delivered the will to the family’s home a week ago.
“We’re getting off to a bit of a rocky start here out of the gate,” Beckloff said toward the end of Monday’s hearing.
L. Londell McMillan, Katherine Jackson’s main attorney, said after the hearing that he did not expect a protracted fight.
“We have no reason to believe this is going to turn into a nasty fight over millions and millions of dollars,” McMillan said.
He said he and other attorneys will be watching Branca’s and McClain’s actions closely.
“We will be working to ensure that Mr. Jackson’s legacy will be treated with dignity,” McMillan said. “Mr. Jackson’s life and legacy will be memorialized tomorrow and we will move forward.”
-With files from Linda Deutsch, Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody, Daisy Nguyen and Ryan Nakashima.