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Despite drama, Jackson's mother wins kids' custody

THE wishes Michael Jackson expressed in his will began to come into reality yesterday during a lengthy court hearing, with his mother placed firmly in charge of rearing his children and the two men he designated still at the reins of his financial empire.

As a media frenzy buzzed outside, a surprise motion from Jackson's longtime dermatologist injected some drama inside the courtroom: An attorney for the doctor, Arnold Klein, tried to enter objections to the parenting of Jackson's children.

Klein has had a lengthy part in Jackson's story line. He not only served as Jackson's doctor, but one of his employees, Deborah Rowe, married Jackson in 1996 and gave birth to two of the singer's children. Most recently, Klein's medical records have been subpoenaed as part of the police investigation of Jackson's death.

Given tabloid reports that Klein is the biological father of Jackson's two oldest children, the attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, quickly told the judge and dozens of reporters covering the hearing that biology wasn't the source of the objections.

"Legally, he is not a presumed parent," Kaplan said. Rather, he said Klein knew Jackson and his children well and had concerns about their education and other day-to-day parenting issues.

Kaplan's objections created a few tense moments in the courtroom, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff quickly dispatched him, saying Klein did not have legal standing.

The appointment of Katherine Jackson as permanent guardian of her son's children did not disperse the crowds of reporters who convened on the downtown courthouse. Satellite trucks lined the street outside the courthouse, reporters arrived more than an hour before Beckloff took the bench to try to get a courtroom seat, all while a smattering of onlookers waited outside and played to the cameras.

"Who gets the Ferris wheel," one man questioned an attorney for the men administering Jackson's estate after the hearing, which stretched from 9 a.m. until mid-afternoon.

The hearing itself was decidedly more low-key.

Katherine Jackson arrived at the courthouse early and entered the courtroom from a back entrance, flanked by daughters LaToya and Rebbie and son Randy. She and Beckloff exchanged pleasantries shortly after the judge named her permanent guardian of Jackson's three children.

John Branca, one of the men who Beckloff ruled can continue to administer the singer's estate, sat across the aisle from the Jacksons. Branca served as Jackson's longtime attorney and was named along with music executive John McClain to serve as co-executors of Jackson's will, signed in 2002.

To date, court records show the men have recovered some of Jackson's personal belongings, $5.5 million in cash, and the singer's life insurance payout, all of which will end up in a private trust account.

That money will help pay for a monthly stipend that Beckloff approved for Katherine Jackson, 79, and for each of the singer's three children, Prince Michael, 12, Paris Michael, 11, and Prince Michael II, 7. The youngest is also known as Blanket and was born to a surrogate mother who has never been identified.

Diane Goodman, an attorney for Katherine Jackson, said the surrogate did not have any parental rights. No one else formally filed for custody of the children, although a pair of women who dogged Jackson throughout his life claiming relationships had sought the youngsters, and exorbitant amounts of money.

Beckloff did not acknowledge either of their filings yesday.

He also did not reveal how much Katherine Jackson and the children will receive per month from the singer's estate. Similarly, he did not disclose any terms of a deal reached by concert promoter AEG Live and other groups involved with the King of Pop's planned comeback concerts in London and the singer's estate.

Beckloff ordered AEG Live to turn over records related to the settlement and the contract for the 50 shows to Katherine Jackson, but placed restrictions on who else could see the information. The judge has a week to review the settlement and decide whether to approve it.

The settlement is another piece of Jackson's finances that is being placed into a private trust set up primarily to provide for his mother and children. The four have a combined 80 percent stake in Jackson's estate, with the rest going to unspecified charities.

Howard Weitzman, an attorney for the estate's co-administrators, said the agreements had the potential to earn the Jacksons millions of dollars.

Branca, one of the co-administrators, said the deals included Columbia Pictures, which owns rehearsal footage of Jackson's preparations for the concert, and another company that had merchandising rights.

Weitzman said co-administrators were "quite pleased" with the rulings. Branca and McClain will remain in charge of Jackson's estate until at least October, Beckloff ruled.

The judge will consider a motion by Katherine Jackson's attorneys on whether she can disqualify the men from administering the estate on grounds of their capacity or potential conflicts of interests.

Beckloff said he needed more information about the motion, including a copy of the private trust that contains a "no contest" clause stating that anyone who challenges Jackson's will should be disinherited.

The judge said he thought the law allowed Katherine Jackson to challenge Branca and McClain based on narrow arguments and scheduled an Aug. 28 hearing on the issue.

One of the quickest issues resolved was also one of the most important - Beckloff admitted Jackson's five-page will drafted in 2002 for probate, a procedure that grants it significant weight.

"It means it is the will that has been legally recognized as the will of Michael Jackson for the purposes of the administration of the estate," said probate attorney Michael G. Dave, who is not affiliated with the case.

The will was entered without fanfare, objection or any hint of drama.


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