A judge on Friday firmly approved a deal between Michael Jackson's estate and a concert promoter to exhibit his memorabilia, praising the arrangement that the singer's mother had fought in court over her concerns that it could harm his legacy and wasn't competitively bid.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff approved the deal that's expected to earn Jackson's estate up to $6 million, saying after four hours of mostly closed-door testimony that there was "no question in my mind this agreement is in the best interest of the estate."
Beckloff noted the lack of a reasonable alternative presented by Katherine Jackson's attorneys, alluding to a mention made in court of a company starting up in the Middle East that might be able to handle the exhibitions.
"The most foolhardy thing the administrators could do is connect with some startup company from the Middle East," he said.
The show will open in London's 02 Arena, where Jackson was set to kick off his "This is It" tour this summer.
"I think everybody is going to be thrilled with the results," said John Norman, president and CEO of the exhibit's promoter, AEG Live-owned Arts and Exhibitions International. "It will be great to celebrate this man's legacy."
AEG Live, the company that was preparing Jackson's 50-concert comeback tour when he died June 25, plans to open the exhibit around the Oct. 28 release of a film using footage of the singer's final rehearsals. Attorneys for Katherine Jackson had tried to block the deal, arguing it should have been competitively bid, and that the estate should have a larger cut of the proceeds than the 50-50 split negotiated with AEG.
John Schreiber, an attorney for Katherine Jackson, suggested there was no need to hurry or conduct "a fire sale" of the memorabilia. But the judge chided his "hyperbole about rushing to judgment and fire sale and giving away the store" as inappropriate, and said he was convinced the negotiations were above board.
Meg Lodise, an attorney appointed to represent the interests of Jackson's three children, agreed that the deal was in the best interests of the youngsters, who are entitled to 40 percent of their father's estate. Katherine Jackson is the beneficiary of another 40 percent, with 20 percent going to unnamed charities.
Norman said the memorabilia exhibition calls for a three-city tour spread over two years that would stay four to six months in each city. He said he didn't know what would be included in the exhibit, but that there were warehouses of material to select from, including items from Jackson's Neverland Ranch and the "This is It" shows. The selection process would begin on Monday, he said.
Mother still feels deal coule be improvedAEG attorney Kathy Jorrie noted in closing arguments that AEG has gone from being a potential creditor to Jackson's estate with millions of dollars in claims to becoming a partner in its success. She said some of the costs of Jackson's public memorial at the Staples Center are factored into the agreement, but that the exact amounts are confidential.
Burt Levitch, one of Katherine Jackson's attorneys, said he hoped AEG would show sensitivity in how it portrays Jackson. The contract approved Friday requires the promoter to collaborate with the administrators of Jackson's estate, but Katherine Jackson may not have a formal say in how it is crafted.
"Mrs. Jackson still feels there are certain aspects of the AEG deal that could have been improved upon," Levitch said.
Katherine Jackson's attorneys have also filed a motion seeking Beckloff's permission to contest the ability of attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain — who were named as co-executors in Jackson's will — to administer her son's estate. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for September.
While the hearing was going on in downtown Los Angeles, Drug Enforcement Administration agents were raiding a pharmacy in Beverly Hills that had sued Jackson in January of 2007, claiming the singer owed more than $100,000 for prescription drugs (the matter was quickly resolved). Agents were seeking evidence of improper dispensing of controlled substances in conjunction with the investigation into the singer's death, and took at least one box of records from the Mickey Fine Pharmacy & Grill.