Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff determined in a ruling released Friday that Michael Jackson's mother can argue against keeping the men currently administering her son's estate without being disinherited. Those arguments would have to be laid out in further motions that the judge will decide on.
Jackson's mother had sought a favorable ruling from Beckloff that she could contest the authority of attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain to guide the pop singer's fortune. The men were named the executors of the estate, which could be worth more than $500 million, in Michael Jackson's 2002 will.
Beckloff's ruling clears the way for further arguments and possibly a hearing on whether the men were best suited to control Jackson's considerable estate. The pair have already brokered deals for a movie, books, museum show and various memorabilia that are expected to generate tens of millions of dollars.
Katherine Jackson's legal team, however, has sought to challenge one or both of the men's authority. A key roadblock was whether a challenge would be deemed a contest to Michael Jackson's will. A provision of the singer's private trust - which gives his mother 40 percent of his assets - calls for anyone that challenges the will to be disinherited.
"She will never lose her inheritance," her attorney, L. Londell McMillan, wrote in a written statement after Beckloff's ruling. "We now hope to resolve the outstanding administration matter, without further costly litigation, in the best interests of the beneficiaries which are Mrs. Jackson and her grandchildren."
Most of Katherine Jackson's arguments for why she should be allowed to challenge Branca and McClain's authority have been sealed, but Beckloff noted in his ruling that they raised several issues, including whether Michael Jackson was under "undue influence" when he signed his 2002 will.
Katherine Jackson's attorneys may challenge Branca or McClain's fitness as administrators, or they may seek a member of Jackson's family or trusted adviser to become a co-administrator. Katherine Jackson's attorneys have noted that her son chose to have three men serve as executors of his estate, although one dropped out after the singer's will was signed.
Attorneys for Branca and McClain did not challenge Katherine Jackson's petition for a ruling. If her attorneys were to opt to formally challenge the authority of one or both of the men, then Beckloff would convene a hearing and hear testimony.
Katherine Jackson's attorneys have not objected to most of the deals Branca and McClain have negotiated to date, although they raised concerns about a deal involving concert promoter AEG Live for a memorabilia exhibit. Other deals include a $60 million agreement with Columbia Pictures to create a movie using footage of Jackson's final rehearsals for a series of London comeback concerts. The film will be released in theaters for a limited time beginning in late October, and the agreement allows special additions to be produced for DVD sales.
Beckloff ruled over Katherine Jackson's objections that the exhibit of her son's items - including some of his possessions from Neverland Ranch - could go forward.
Michael Jackson's music and merchandise has sold briskly since his death on June 25.
The singer died in considerable debt, a fact underscored by creditor's claims that continued to be filed in his estate case. This week, two claims filed by Jackson's former hairdresser and a law firm totaled more than $243,000, and the singer was involved in several pending civil lawsuits when he died.
Attorneys for Branca and McClain have repeatedly said they consider Jackson's estate solvent. Experts predict that it could eventually grow to be worth more than another music superstar who died unexpectedly - Elvis Presley.
Katherine Jackson and her three grandchildren are the only three people named to receive money from the estate. They stand to receive a combined 80 percent stake of the singer's estate; the remaining share is slated to go to unnamed charities.
The estate is currently paying more than $86,000 a month to support Jackson's mother and children, who range in ages from 7 to 12. Katherine Jackson has been named the permanent guardian of the children as was called for in the 2002 will.