A judge said yesterday 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.
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, Katherine Jackson, repeatedly objected to their appointment at Monday's court hearing.
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.
A public memorial has been scheduled for Jackson in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday. More than 1.6 million people registered to win the coveted free tickets, and only 8,750 names were chosen.
Los Angeles officials are concerned about other fans clogging city streets. Downtown hotels were quickly filling Monday, and police warned those without tickets to the memorial to stay away.
In the legal battle over the pop superstar's estate, the judge 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.
Katherine Jackson had applied to oversee her son's estate, but that was before the will surfaced. Her attorney, Burt Levitch, expressed concerns about McClain and Branca's financial leadership.
Levitch 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.
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.
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.
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."
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.