Jackson family win first round of battle for custody

Judge to decide future of singer's three children at hearing in August
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The Independent Online

And so, to court. Michael Jackson's family came out all guns blazing, as opening shots were fired in snowballing legal battles over the billion-dollar questions of who will gain control over the singer's estate, and custody of his three small children.

Jackson's mother, Katherine, who was yesterday granted temporary custody, filed guardianship papers at Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday morning, seeking permanent custody of her grand-children, who she has been caring for since his sudden death on Thursday. The application sets the stage for a showdown on August 3rd, when a judge will weigh-up the pros and cons of every candidate who volunteers to bring up Michael Joseph Jackson Jr, 12, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, 11, and Prince Michael II, the 7-year-old widely known as "Blanket."

It promises to be a high-stakes decision, since the guardian stands to receive tens of millions of dollars in allowances from Jackson's estate, which was roughly $400m [£240m] in debt but has soared in value since his death. Custody would usually go to a surviving parent, but the children have complex provenance. The eldest two were born to Jackson's second wife and former nurse, Debbie Rowe. The youngest had a surrogate mother, who was picked from a catalogue and is thought to now reside in Europe.

L Londell McMillan, a show-business attorney now acting as the Jackson family's legal representative and spokesman, hit the airwaves yesterday to argue the case for Katherine, who has been caring for the children since their father's death on Thursday.

"The fortunate reality is they have a long-term relationship with their loving grandmother, who the world knows and appreciates is just an amazing woman, a very, very loving and strong woman," he told NBC news. "She presently has custody, and I guess there isn't... anyone better."

Mr McMillan claimed the family has yet to hear from Ms Rowe, who surrendered custody as part of her $10m divorce in 1999, but successfully challenged that agreement in 2006, and has since been entitled one parental visit every 46 days.

Some reports suggest Ms Rowe is ready to "fight tooth and nail" to bring up her children, but she has yet to clarify the matter. Her attorney, Iris Finsilver, released a statement at the weekend describing her as "inconsolable" about the loss of "a beautiful and loving soul."

The Jackson family's other priority is to establish exactly what caused the 50-year-old singer to suffer an apparent cardiac arrest at his rented home in Holmby Hills, just days before he was due to visit London for his first live tour for 12 years. Reports have suggested that he was taking a dangerous array of perscription drugs. However, Jackson's personal physician, Dr Conrad Murray, has denied responsibility for any such regime, and disputed reports that he injected Jackson with the painkiller Demerol shortly before his collapse.

Full details of pharmaceuticals in his system won't be known until either the coroner reports in 4-6 weeks, or the family publishes toxicology tests from its own autopsy. There are further concerns that Dr Murray, who was present when Jackson stopped breathing, botched a CPR procedure by conducting it on a soft bed, rather than a harder surface.

"The family is quite deeply troubled with the circumstances surrounding the death, as most people who know about the facts are," McMillan said yesterday. "It's been well-documented that Michael was receiving medical care on a bed as opposed to on the floor. So the facts speak to themselves."

Lawyers hired by Dr Murray, who was $400,000 [£240,000] in debt following a string of legal battles, claimed yesterday that he carried out the CPR with one hand behind the patient's back.

That will cut little ice with Jackson's father, Joe. Outside the Black Entertainment Television awards in Los Angeles, he was asked if he was concerned about the nature of his son's death. "Yes I am," he replied. "I have a lot of concerns... I don't like what happened."

Joe Jackson's wide-ranging interview also touched on the mood inside the family home in Encino. "My family's doing pretty good. Yes they are. It has been really tough. Remember, we just lost the biggest star, the biggest superstar in the world. So it's been tough."

Architect of singer's success: His father, Joseph Jackson

There's a time and a place to plug your new business venture, and as Joseph Jackson just inelegantly demonstrated, it's very much not a red-carpet interview 72 hours after the death of your widely-adored son.

Hiding behind an enormous pair of dark glasses, the patriarch of the Jackson clan shuffled up to a CNN microphone and addressed a shell-shocked world outside the Black Entertainment Television awards in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

Having delivered a perfunctory tribute to Michael, and teed up statements from his family's sleek new lawyer, he cracked on with the serious business of the interview: drumming up interest in his latest get-rich-quick scheme. "This is Marshall here," he said, gesturing to a companion in pin stripes and a white fedora. "Marshall and I, we own a record company called... tell him." The man broke in saying: "Ranch Records, it's driven by Blu-ray technology, that's his next step."

It was a clanging public gesture from an 80-year-old man who was the architect of the King of Pop's extraordinary rise, yet has for most of his life been cast as a villain. A failed boxer, musician and crane operator from Gary, Indiana, Joe wrote his chapter in pop history in the 1960s, when he founded the Jackson 5.

Joe presided over his children's careers with an iron fist which was widely blamed for the psychological problems that dogged Michael's adult life. In Martin Bashir's 2003 documentary, Michael recalled that Joe conducted rehearsals with a belt in his hand. "If you didn't do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you," he recalled.

The quiet fixture in his life: his mother, Katherine Jackson

In a story thick with potential villains, the one member of Michael Jackson's circle to emerge as a heroine is Katherine, his 79-year-old mother and one of the few close personal confidantes who always seemed to have his best interests at heart.

Since her son's death, Katherine has remained largely hidden at the family home in Encino, caring for her three suddenly-bereaved grandchildren a half-hour's drive from the rented mansion where their father was taken ill. There is much to support her claim for long-term custody, not least the fact that it will allow the siblings to remain in each other's company. Giving the eldest two to their biological mother, Debbie Rowe, would leave the fate of the youngest in doubt.

More importantly, Katherine is the only potential guardian who does not appear to be motivated by financial gain. A strict Christian, and Jehovah's Witness, who used to sew the Jackson Five's costumes during their early days, she maintained regular contact with Michael and his children.

In recent years, when the singer was often short of funds, she allowed them to stay, without compensation, for extended periods at her home in a gated community where she tends to reside while her husband Joe prefers Encino.

Her marriage is complex. Though often estranged, thanks to his occasional adultery, Katherine never sought a divorce and they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas this year.