- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Jackson’s mother received temporary custody Monday of her son’s three children and filed papers in a Los Angeles court asserting that he died without a will.

But a former attorney for the late pop star now claims that Mr. Jackson, 50, did not die “intestate,” but had a will that the attorney will file in court within the next 30 days.

Attorneys for Jackson family matriarch Katherine Jackson asked the court to name her as administrator of his estate, putting the Jackson family in control of his affairs. They also asked the court that she not be required to post bond, noting that the value of his assets is not yet known.

Her court filing said that Mrs. Jackson, 79, who was supported in her petition by her husband, Joe Jackson, “intends to marshal assets of the decedent for the exclusive use of the decedent’s three children — her grandchildren — after payment of debts and expenses of administration.”

A judge set a hearing for July 6.

However, John Branca, an attorney who worked for Michael Jackson until 2006 and reportedly was rehired by him about three weeks ago, said Monday that the singer left a will, which Mr. Branca soon will file, according to the Web site TMZ.com.

Meanwhile, the judge granted Mrs. Jackson the authority to take control of some of her son’s items currently in the hands of an unnamed third party, the Associated Press reported. The wording in the judge’s order is similar to language included in Mrs. Jackson’s petition to get control of thousands of her son’s items removed from his Neverland Ranch. Those items — which included some of the singer’s wardrobe, awards and other items described as “priceless and irreplaceable” — were slated for auction earlier this year until Mr. Jackson sued to block it. A settlement resulted in the goods being put on public display in Beverly Hills, but not put up for sale.

Also on Monday, two coroner’s investigators and two police detectives spent several hours Monday inside Mr. Jackson’s rented three-story estate home and then emerged with two large red bags filled with evidence, AP reported. The coroner’s office performed an autopsy on Mr. Jackson’s body Friday, but deferred a decision on the cause of death, citing the need for further tests. A second, private autopsy has been requested by the family, said Joe Jackson.

Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told reporters outside the home that authorities returned to the home to gather additional items, which he identified as “some medications.”

Mr. Winter cited “information that was obtained by the Los Angeles Police Department, along with some questions we had involving some of the medications,” but he did not elaborate.

Preliminary reports suggest it is increasingly likely that Mr. Jackson died of a multiple-drug overdose, according to TMZ. His family continued to register its concern over who knew about what medications he had taken. Police have said that Dr. Conrad Murray, a cardiologist who was at Mr. Jackson’s rented estate the day he died, has not been named a suspect. The doctor was questioned over the weekend, although those close to Mr. Jackson said that he employed several doctors over the years who treated him around the world.

Dr. Murray’s attorney, Matt Alford, said Monday it took up to a half-hour for paramedics to be called after Mr. Jackson collapsed at home, AP reported. Mr. Alford said the delay was partly because Mr. Jackson’s room didn’t have a telephone and that Dr. Murray didn’t know Mr. Jackson’s street address to give to emergency crews, AP reported.

A legal brawl over custody and finances could be bad for Mr. Jackson’s image, which has been significantly rehabilitated in the aftermath of his death, said Christopher Norton, a partner in the intellectual-property group at the Washington law firm Arent Fox.

Before his death, a cloud of suspicion regarding child-molestation accusations continued to hang over Mr. Jackson, even though he was acquitted in one case. Now, fans worldwide have come to his defense as a seminal artist of his era, Mr. Norton said.

Mr. Norton said Monday the future earning potential of Mr. Jackson’s name and music could be “in the millions and millions,” much like Elvis Presley, who had a history of prescription-drug use and whose estate released a catalog of unheard music after he died at age 42 in 1977. It provided a fortune to his daughter and sole heir, Lisa Marie Presley.

“If you look at Elvis Presley’s estate, it probably gives you the best road map of what the Jackson estate can expect. Even though [Mr. Jackson] won in court, he did not win in the court of public opinion. But now with all of these glowing tributes, it is refurbishing his brand in a positive way for his estate,” said Mr. Norton. “You can imagine [his former home] Neverland becoming the next Graceland. I think it could happen easily.”

Word of a video Mr. Jackson recently worked on also surfaced Monday.

The AP reported Monday that two weeks before he died, Mr. Jackson wrapped up work on an elaborate production dubbed the “Dome Project” that could be the final finished video piece overseen by him. Two people with knowledge of the project confirmed its existence to the AP on the condition they not be identified because they signed confidentiality agreements. They said it was a five-week project filmed at Culver City Studios. Four sets were constructed, including a cemetery recalling Mr. Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Shooting for the project lasted from June 1 to June 9, with Mr. Jackson on the set most days.

Even with Mr. Jackson reportedly holding massive debt, his family is stepping in to claim what could be a growing fortune with income from his music and his image. Having a valid will would be key to how his future finances shake out, with priority made for his children, who move up as his likely heirs, Mr. Norton said.

“If he was really sick and if he were incapacitated by drugs at all, even if he made a will within the last three weeks, there may be grounds to contest that will by his family,” Mr. Norton said, noting that the kicker would be how much debt his family would be willing to assume.

Mrs. Jackson’s court filing mentions the singer’s ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, as the mother of his two older children, Prince Michael, 12, and Paris, 11, but it also asserts that Miss Rowe has no relationship with the children.

A Jackson family attorney said Monday that Miss Rowe has not made contact since the entertainer died.

The mother of a third child, 7-year-old Prince Michael II, was identified in the documents as “none.” The child reportedly was conceived for Mr. Jackson through a surrogate whose identity has not been made public.

Funeral arrangements for Mr. Jackson are pending.

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