A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge gave an entertainment lawyer and a music executive temporary control of Michael Jackson’s estate Monday over the objections of attorneys for his mother who said she was better qualified to oversee his affairs.
Judge Mitchell Beckloff said the emergence of a 2002 will that named the two longtime Jackson associates -- John Branca and John McClain -- as executors persuaded him to remove the performer’s 79-year-old mother from the position of limited power she had held over the estate for a week.
“I think the law compels that result,” the judge said. “I think Mr. Jackson felt comfortable with these individuals, at least in 2002.”
Whether the 7-year-old will is valid will be the subject of an Aug. 3 hearing, Beckloff said.
In the meantime, the judge said, the executors must seek court approval of any major business decisions and solicit input from Katherine Jackson about such deals.
“I’m not saying she has to approve everything,” the judge told lawyers. “I am just trying to open up the free flow of information.”
His decisions empowered Branca, a leading music industry attorney, and McClain, a co-founder of Interscope Records, to begin cracking down on the sale of unlicensed merchandise bearing Jackson’s name and likeness.
Among other pressing issues, their attorneys said, was working out a settlement agreement with concert promoter AEG Live over money owed the company for the 50-show comeback performances scuttled by Jackson’s death. Tens of millions of dollars are at stake, one lawyer told the judge.
“We agree that somebody needs to be at the helm of the ship until the next petition is being heard,” said Beckloff, summarizing the common ground between several different interests that appeared at the hearing.
At least 15 attorneys attended the proceeding, including legal teams from the state attorney general’s office, acting on behalf of the charities to which the entertainer bequeathed money, and a Las Vegas attorney, David Chesnoff, who said he was representing Jackson’s siblings.
Katherine Jackson did not attend the hearing, which drew 80 reporters to the downtown courthouse. Her lawyers said she was preoccupied with planning her son’s funeral. She is also temporary guardian of his three children.
The 2002 will called for all of his assets -- a musical empire with an estimated value of at least $200 million -- to be placed in a trust that would distribute money to Jackson’s mother, children and charities. The trust includes a provision that cuts out of the will any beneficiary who challenges its validity, lawyers told the judge.
Katherine Jackson’s attorneys said repeatedly that they were not challenging the will, only voicing concerns about the executors named.
“Her concern is about handing over the keys to the kingdom this quickly to this group,” said John E. Schreiber, one of her attorneys.
In papers filed Monday, her attorneys wrote that she is best positioned to oversee her son’s estate because she is the only one who has consistently and directly been involved with his business affairs throughout his career.
McClain met the family 40 years ago and did studio work with Jackson and his siblings. Branca started representing Jackson in 1980, but the two parted in 2006 in a disagreement that the lawyer has said was related to his disapproval of others in the performer’s inner circle. Jackson rehired Branca eight days before his death, his lawyers said in court.
An attorney for the executors dismissed the idea that the Jackson matriarch was suspicious of men who had spent decades working with her son. “She’s well aware of who these people are,” said attorney Paul Gordon Hoffman.
At a news conference after the hearing, an attorney for Jackson’s parents said he was “relatively pleased” with the outcome of the proceeding, citing the judge’s decision to consider Katherine Jackson’s wishes before signing off on deals proposed by Branca and McClain.
“We will be watching closely,” attorney L. Londell McMillan said.
A 1997 will signed by Jackson was submitted to the court for safekeeping last week, court officials confirmed. The details have not been made public since it is not part of the probate case.