A judge has tapped a partner at a downtown Los Angeles law firm specializing in probate matters to serve as a special guardian for Michael Jackson's children in the settling of their father's estate.

The attorney, Margaret G. Lodise, is to advocate for the best interests of the performer's two sons and daughter in the sometimes-contentious process of putting Jackson's affairs in order.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff said Tuesday he was appointing a lawyer to represent the children because of disputes between the estate's administrators and Jackson's mother, the other major beneficiary of his lucrative music empire.

Lawyers for Katherine Jackson, 79, oppose certain elements of merchandising and memorabilia contracts hammered out by the estate administrators, John Branca and John McClain. The judge said he would ask for input from the children's guardian before deciding whether to approve the contracts.

-- Harriet Ryan

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