The judge overseeing the settling of Michael Jackson's affairs ordered the appointment Monday of a special guardian to represent the legal and financial interests of the pop singer's three children, who are heirs to his lucrative music empire.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff came to the decision during a day-long hearing in which he also announced that he had approved a $60-million deal that will transform 80 hours of rehearsal footage from the final months of Jackson's life into a feature film.
Jackson's mother supported the plan for a Columbia Pictures release set for October.
But the judge said her objections to other business deals hammered out by the administrators of her son's estate convinced him of the need for an independent attorney who could advocate for the performer's two sons and daughter.
The judge said he was concerned that although Katherine Jackson, the other major beneficiary of the singer's estate, fought with administrators over merchandising plans and a traveling memorabilia exhibit, no one was speaking for Prince, 12; Paris, 11; and 7-year-old Prince Michael II, known as Blanket.
In his 2002 will, Jackson placed his assets, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions, in a private family trust in which his mother and children each hold a 40% share.
The remaining 20% goes to charities.
Katherine Jackson, who has custody of her grandchildren, has a team of attorneys to plead her cause, and the charities are represented by the state attorney general's office.
After reviewing a pair of agreements recommended by the administrators and opposed by Katherine Jackson, Beckloff told lawyers he was missing input from an important "player" in the deals.
"I don't know how I approve these [contracts] without the children, who are not represented," Beckloff said.
Beckloff said he planned to choose the attorney, known as a guardian ad litem, this week so the person could quickly get up to speed on the complicated business decisions facing Jackson's estate.
"I am inclined to have a [guardian] look at everything," Beckloff said.
The judge postponed rulings on the proposed contracts with concert promoter AEG Live and merchandiser Bravado International Group Merchandising Services.
Under those contracts, Bravado will be responsible for developing and marketing a wide array of merchandise, from clothing to wine decanters, and AEG, which was mounting Jackson's planned comeback concerts, will put on a three-city tour of the entertainer's memorabilia.
Lawyers for the estate administrators, John Branca and John McClain, have estimated that revenue from the contracts and other deals could be in "high eight figures."
An attorney for the administrators told the judge that naming a representative for the children "would not have any material impact" because Branca and McClain had already ensured the best possible agreements.
"These are remarkably good deals for the estate," said lawyer Paul Gordon Hoffman.
But Katherine Jackson's lawyers presented the judge with what they described as thoughtful, detailed ways the agreements could be improved.
Their suggestions were not filed publicly, but in comments in court, a lawyer for the 79-year-old matriarch indicated she was uncomfortable with AEG.
Jackson's father, Joe, has expressed suspicion about the entertainment company, and Katherine Jackson's attorney mentioned elsewhere in the hearing that the family wanted to be free to share information in the AEG contract with "regulators and law enforcement agencies."
The promoter had drawn up a contract with Dr. Conrad Murray, the Las Vegas cardiologist whom the pop star selected as his personal physician, but the singer had not signed the contract. Murray is the target of a manslaughter investigation.
Kathy Jorrie, a lawyer for AEG, told the judge that the promoter was willing to provide information to investigators, but that no one had asked for any.
"We are not aware of any investigations that involve AEG," Jorrie said.