Bizarre claims keep Jackson's estate lawyer busy

Sun Jun 27, 2010 11:27pm EDT
 
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By Eriq Gardner

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Michael Jackson was involved in a startling number of lawsuits throughout his career, and now his estate is attracting enormous legal interest.

Attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain are the executors of the estate, but the primary responsibility for handling legal actions has fallen to Howard Weitzman, one of the few Hollywood lawyers equally comfortable with deals and lawsuits. He's been dealing with a range of issues, from copyright concerns over Jackson's posthumous songs to charities trying to leverage Jackson's name without authority to allegedly misleading documentaries and battles over control of the estate. Then, of course, there's the bizarre stuff.

HE'S BEEN GONE A YEAR BUT MICHAEL JACKSON MUST BE KEEPING YOU VERY BUSY?

Weitzman: It's been a real roller coaster ride. You have issues on the business front like the "This Is It" film with Sony and the Cirque du Soleil (shows). The transactional issues are mostly handled by Branca, but because of my unique position, I have the opportunity to look and review these deals. That said, I'm mostly involved on the litigation front, from helping make decisions to pay certain claims from creditors that are meritorious to dealing with the challenges of the appointment of the executors. There's continuing challenges dealing with the Jackson family and we want to make sure the beneficiaries Katherine and the children are treated appropriately.

THERE WERE A LOT OF CREDITORS HOUNDING JACKSON AT THE TIME OF HIS DEATH. WHAT'S THE STATUS THERE?

Weitzman: A lot of claims we've been able to resolve because they were less than meritorious. Some claims were accepted and paid out. Others may end up at trial. I do expect more lawsuits to be filed in the future because Michael was and still is a big target.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE STRANGEST CLAIMS AGAINST THE JACKSON ESTATE?

Weitzman: Wow, not a week goes by where something strange doesn't happen. There are consistent claims by people claiming to be Michael's wife or child. One lady from the Netherlands kept insisting that she was his daughter. You have to take them seriously when they file claims. There was one woman who claimed $5 million because she wanted to mentor his kids. She insisted she be given a house. She even filed a petition to adopt the children!

HOW DO YOU HANDLE THESE SITUATIONS?

Weitzman: I try not to be rude. I just firmly have to tell them we don't think your claim is meritorious and don't think it would be in your interest to pursue this further. Most of the time it goes away. Of course, some matters just keep coming up, like that lady who says she was the basis for the song "Billie Jean." She's filed numerous times. Sometimes, you just have to laugh. It's amazing what some people are claiming.

 
<p>A fan holds up a single gloved hand during a memorial to Michael Jackson near the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York June 25, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>