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Legal battles over Jackson’s legacy begin to take shape

As Michael Jackson’s father moved Sunday to assert control over his son’s estate, his attorney said that the family has not been able to locate a will for the pop icon and that Jackson’s mother will seek custody of his three children.

“That’s who Michael would have wanted to have the children. She loves them dearly,” lawyer L. Londell McMillan told CNN outside the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles before the BET Awards. He said the children are in “great care” and in a “loving environment” with their grandmother, Katherine, at the family’s Encino estate.

Asked about the will, McMillan said the family has heard “reports of one . . . but none has been presented to the family at this time.”

As camps began to form for what could be extended battles over Jackson’s children, his money and his legacy, the doctor who treated Jackson the day he died defended himself Sunday. Dr. Conrad Murray, through his lawyer, denied reports that he had injected Jackson with powerful painkillers before his death.

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“There was no Demerol. No OxyContin,” said Murray’s attorney, Edward Chernoff.

The lawyer, who was present during Murray’s three-hour interview with Los Angeles Police Department detectives Saturday, said Jackson was already unconscious when the doctor “fortuitously” entered the bedroom of the performer’s Holmby Hills mansion.

The 50-year-old pop star “wasn’t breathing. He checked for a pulse. There was a weak pulse in his femoral artery. He started administering CPR,” said Chernoff, a Houston criminal defense attorney.

The lawyer’s claim was consistent with the account of a source close to the investigation who told The Times that the doctor was cooperative and that there was no immediate indication of wrongdoing.

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Jackson family members, however, continued to express doubts Sunday.

Asked about doctors and others around Jackson before his death, his father told CNN: “I have a lot of concerns, but I can’t get into that.” His lawyer, McMillan, added, “We’ll have more to say about that at a later point.”

The conflicting statements came on an evening in which the music industry honored Jackson’s legacy at the BET Awards. Outside, the elder Jackson made a public claim for control of his son’s affairs.

Appearing on the red carpet with a publicist and McMillan, Jackson told CNN that he and his wife alone were in charge of their son’s estate and legacy. The 80-year-old patriarch declared in a statement read by the publicist that the couple “have the personal and legal authority to act, and solely Katherine and I have authority for our son and his children.”

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Whether the elder Jackson has that authority is not clear. Michael Jackson may have written a will naming another person as executor of his estate, and Debbie Rowe, the mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, may have a strong claim for custody, legal experts have said.

The announcement that Katherine Jackson would seek custody of the children -- Prince Michael Jr., 12; Paris Michael Katherine, 11; and Prince Michael II, 7 -- has the potential to become its own complex legal case.

Given Jackson’s unusual custody arrangements negotiated with Rowe over his two oldest children, it would seem likely that his wishes for their care following his death were written and notarized at the time of the agreement, family law experts said.

However, experts said that if someone other than the children’s biological mother is designated for custody, Rowe would have a good chance of challenging the arrangements, as her waiving of parental rights would probably be deemed illegal.

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Rowe sued Jackson over the custody agreement and won an appeals court verdict in 2006 but settled out of court on undisclosed terms.

Jackson’s youngest child, Prince Michael II, was born of a surrogate whose identity hasn’t been made public. The surrogate’s custody petition, if she were to make one, wouldn’t have the same power as Rowe’s unless she is proved to have been the genetic mother as well.

Despite speculation often aired during Jackson’s life that he was not the biological father of the older children, under California law he was the legal parent as he was married to Rowe at the time the children were born.

The court presiding over Jackson’s affairs may appoint a guardian to protect the interests of the children in the proceedings.

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If no will or trust surfaces, spelling out how he wanted his estate dispersed, under state law Jackson’s three children will inherit his property in equal shares.

Jackson died with more than $400 million in debt, but with assets that far outweighed the amount owed. Some experts have valued his music catalog and his share of the Sony-ATV catalog, which includes songs by the Beatles, at more than $1 billion.

McMillan suggested Sunday that if there is no will Katherine Jackson “is the duly appointed person” to oversee “the best interest of the children.”

If, however, Jackson left guidance and designated an executor, that person has 30 days from knowledge of his death to petition the court for administration of his estate or the right to serve as executor can be seen as waived.

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McMillan spoke publicly on behalf of Michael Jackson’s parents for the first time Sunday after being hired over the weekend. The 34-year-old New York-based attorney had previously represented Michael Jackson in some business litigation and has represented other celebrities, including Jay Z, Spike Lee and Kanye West, according to his website.

Joe Jackson said the family was still discussing his son’s funeral arrangements.

“We haven’t gotten to that yet. But we’re working on that,” he said.

The patriarch did not address comments by the Rev. Al Sharpton that the family was considering a multi-city “We Are The World"-style tribute befitting the King of Pop’s international fame. Sharpton arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday and sat beside the elder Jackson at the BET Awards.

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At the celebratory ceremony, which turned into as much of a tribute to Jackson as an awards presentation, Janet Jackson briefly addressed the cheering audience.

“To you, Michael is an icon, but to us Michael is family, and he will forever live in all of our hearts.”

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harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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andrew.blankstein@ latimes.com

Times staff writers Cara Mia DiMassa, Carol J. Williams and Alan Zarembo contributed to this report.


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