- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

LOS ANGELES | A judge said Monday that Michael Jackson’s longtime attorney and a family friend should take over the pop singer’s estate for now, rejecting a request from Mr. Jackson’s mother to be put in charge or share control.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff backed lawyer John Branca and music executive John McClain, who had been designated in Mr. Jackson’s 2002 will to administer his estate. Attorneys for the pop singer’s mother repeatedly objected to the men’s appointment at Monday’s court hearing.

“It’s our desire to do everything we can to carry out Michael Jackson’s wishes and to maximize the estate,” said Howard Weitzman, who spoke after the hearing on behalf of Mr. Branca. Mr. Weitzman issued a statement later calling the judge’s ruling “the correct decision.”

The singer’s mother, Katherine Jackson, had applied to oversee her son’s estate before the 2002 will surfaced. Her attorney, Burt Levitch, expressed concerns about Mr. McClain and Mr. Branca’s financial leadership.

Mr. Jackson died June 25 and was 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 Mr. Jackson in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday. Dozens of police officers and a firetruck were parked outside Dodger Stadium on Monday, where ticket winners could start picking up their coveted passes to the Staples Center ceremony.

More than 1.6 million people registered to win the free tickets - two per person - and only 8,750 names were chosen. Los Angeles officials are concerned about other fans clogging city streets.

Representatives for Mr. Jackson’s family released a list of participants Monday that includes Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Kobe Bryant, Brooke Shields, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Lionel Richie, John Mayer, Usher, Jennifer Hudson and Martin Luther King III and his sister Bernice.

One person who won’t be at the memorial is Debbie Rowe, Mr. Jackson’s ex-wife and the mother of Mr. Jackson’s two oldest children. She had planned to attend, but backed out Monday.

“The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michael’s legacy,” Rowe attorney Marta Almli said in a statement. “Debbie will continue to celebrate Michael’s memory privately.”

Mr. Jackson’s family had wanted Judge Beckloff to delay the appointment of Mr. McClain and Mr. Branca as temporary administrators of the pop superstar’s estate, a person close to the Jacksons said.

The family wanted more time to look deeper into Michael Jackson’s affairs, to see whether another will emerges and to accommodate Mr. Jackson’s memorial service, said a person close to the family who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.

Mrs. Jackson’s attorneys also had asked that she be appointed to serve as a co-administrator with Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain. Judge Beckloff refused to grant that request, too.

The authority that Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain have on Mr. Jackson’s estate will expire Aug. 3, when another hearing will be held.

“Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain for the next month are at the helm of the ship,” Judge Beckloff said.

Attorneys also disclosed that another Jackson will from 1997 has been lodged with the court but will only become a factor if the 2002 will is invalidated. Details of the older will were not disclosed.

Mr. Levitch, an attorney for Mrs. Jackson, told Judge Beckloff that Mr. Branca had previously been removed from financial positions of authority by Mr. Jackson. Mr. Branca’s attorney says he was rehired by Mr. Jackson on June 17, days before Mr. Jackson’s death.

Mrs. Jackson’s lawyers had argued in court that she needed to be special administrator of the estate to be able to determine whether Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain had other dealings with Mr. Jackson or his partners that could be construed as a conflict of interest.

Paul Gordon Hoffman, an attorney for Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain, said some of Mrs. 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.

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