Michael Jackson’s longtime attorney and a family friend should take over the pop singer’s estate, a judge said Monday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff issued his ruling after a court hearing Monday morning. Attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain had been designated in Jackson’s 2002 will as the people he wanted to administer his estate.
Jackson died June 25, deeply in debt. But a court filing estimates that his estate will be worth more than $500 million.
The singer’s mother, 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.
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.
Katherine Jackson’s attorneys had asked that she be appointed to serve as a co-administrator with Branca and McClain.
Beckloff did not grant that request. Beckloff is now considering which powers over the estate to give to McClain and Branca. He will take that issue up after a short recess.
“Frankly, Mrs. Jackson has concerns about handing over the keys to the kingdom,” said John E. Schreiber, an attorney for Katherine Jackson.
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.
Experts say Branca and McClain had an upper hand going into Monday’s court hearing because they were designated by Jackson. In Branca’s case, he helped organize one of the singer’s smartest financial moves — acquiring a stake in the Sony-ATV Music Publishing Catalog, which includes music by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Lady Gaga and the Jonas Brothers.
Branca also helped Jackson acquire the rights to his own master recordings, which include ample material for new music to be released posthumously.
Gaining even temporary control of Jackson’s estate is key, attorneys for Branca and McClain argue in court filings, because they can begin tapping into the singer’s earning potential by licensing “records, music, TV, publishing, pay-per-view, theatrical” properties.
Attorney Jeryll S. Cohen told Beckloff on Wednesday that the men also could minimize the loss of an estimated $85 million in ticket refunds required for Jackson’s canceled London concerts. Randy Phillips, president and CEO of concert promoter AEG Live, said Thursday that the company has ample material for a possible movie, live album and other media that will likely allow them to break even on their Jackson investment.
A temporary administrator would also have the power to take over numerous lawsuits pending against Jackson, including a $44 million federal claim filed by former publicist Raymone Bain, two lawsuits filed by “Thriller” director John Landis, and another one filed by “Thriller” co-star Ola Ray.
Temporary administrators would also control 2,000 items taken from Neverland Ranch that were slated for an auction halted by the singer this year. The items, which include awards, clothing and numerous other unique items taken from Jackson’s former home, were expected to fetch at least $12 million.