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 $500 million. His assets are destined for a private trust.
Katherine Jackson’s attorneys had asked that she be appointed to serve as a co-administrator with Branca and McClain. Beckloff refused to grant that request.
Branca and McClain will have to post a $1 million bond on the estate, Beckloff ruled. Their authority over the estate will expire Aug. 3, when another hearing on the estate 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 canceled 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.”
Branca had a 5 percent interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing in September 2005, according to Uniform Commercial Code filings in New York, but his interest was terminated in December 2007.
Branca also was a trustee in MJ Publishing Trust, which held Jackson’s 50-percent stake, but is not believed to be any longer, said John Schreiber, a lawyer for Katherine Jackson.
Her lawyers had argued in court that Katherine Jackson 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.
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.”