“Even before being hired as Mrs. Jackson’s attorney, Sanders had been discussing how to mount an attack on Branca with other high-profile litigators, among them Paul V. LiCalsi, who had long represented the Beatles’ company Apple Corps Limited and John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. At the same time, he was collecting information that raised ever more intriguing questions about Michael Jackson’s will and John Branca’s conduct.
Branca had thus far avoided answering questions about who at his law firm had prepared the Michael Jackson will and trust agreement submitted to Judge Beckloff, or about why he and his law firm had retained the originals of those documents after they were “commanded” to return them in 2003. Branca had also declined to respond to any questions about where and when Michael Jackson signed the will that had been submitted to Judge Beckloff.On Branca’s behalf, Weitzman emphasized that Michael Jackson’s 2002will had been approved by the probate court, but Weitzman himself offered nodetails about where and when the will had been signed, though he did insist thatthe signature was genuine and that all three witnesses had been present whenJackson signed his name.Howard Weitzman refused to go on the record with TMZ or anyone else in themedia about whether the will had been signed in New York or Los Angeles.Sanders himself spoke to Jackson’s former accountant, Barry Siegel, who said thewill had been signed “in California.” Yet Siegel’s friend Dennis Hawk said heunderstood from Barry that the will was signed in New York.”
The Jackson family celebration of Judge Beckloff’s ruling placing custody of the children and control of the estate into the hands of their matriarch lasted less than seventy-two hours. On the morning of July 1, 2009, a certified copy of a document titled “ Last Will of Michael Joseph Jackson” was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by two of the three executors named in the document, John Branca and John McClain, the latter a record company executive who had a long history with the Jackson clan. The signature on the will had been officially witnessed by McClain and Barry Siegel, the former Jackson accountant who was the third executor named in the document, as well as Trudy Green, who had been Michael’s manager at that time. A handwritten annotation stated that this had taken place in Los Angeles at 5p.m. on July 7, 2002. According to Branca, who produced the document, Michael’s will had been sitting in the files of his law firm, Ziffren Brittenham, LLP, for the seven years since.
Team Michael Jackson Note: This is a gross conflicts of interest to have those names in the Will as executors to be also be the witness to the signing of the Will. This is why the witnesses have been kept secret for the past 3 ½ years
“Raising further doubts about the validity of the will, at least in Sanders’s mind, was that the signature page produced by Branca was entirely separate from the body of the document, making it impossible to say whether it was the same document that Michael Jackson had signed in July 2002. Even Barry Siegel had admitted to Sanders that he had no way of knowing.”
“Sanders was even more interested to learn that in the spring of 2009 Michael had been in conversations about his need for an estate planner, and in the process had convinced his representatives, Dennis Hawk and Tohme Tohme, that there was no valid will or trust agreement in existence. “That was my distinct impression,” said Hawk, who in March 2009, right around the time that the “This Is It” shows were announced, had been asked by Jackson and Tohme to find an attorney who could prepare an estate plan for Michael that included a will and trust agreement.
Both Hawk and Tohme saw the Neverland Trust agreements (naming Katherine Jackson as the trustee of the estate and making no mention of John Branca) that had been prepared in 2006 during Raymone Bain’s reign as Michael’s manager, andassumed those would be the templates of any new estate documents. Hawk reportedly had contacted Sean Najerian, a lawyer who had prepared such documents for other clients of his.
Najerian said Dennis had indeed called to ask if he would consider the scope of an estate plan for Michael Jackson, whether he would be capable of preparing documents that included a will and trust agreement, and what he would charge in terms of a flat fee to do so. Tohme followed up, and there were a number of conversations during March and April, Najerian said, but then the calls simply stopped. The reason for that, apparently, was Tohme’s estrangement from Jackson during the Julien Auctions imbroglio. “I can tell you that in 2009 Michael didn’t think he had any will,” Tohme said two years later.
What made the whole situation even more confusing was that Michael Jackson had signed at least one other will and trust agreement subsequent to July 2002—in Florida during 2003. Those documents named Al Malnik as the executor of Michael’s estate, and as guardian to Michael’s youngest child, Blanket. Marc Schaffel was one of the two official witnesses to Michael’s signature, at Malnik’s home in Ocean Ridge.
He recalled that this trust agreement was much longer and more elaborate than the one submitted by Branca to Judge Beckloff, Schaffel said. Malnik had in fact acknowledged the existence of such a will in a brief interview with the Palm Beach Post’s “Page 2” columnist Jose Lambiet on the day after Jackson’s death, adding that he also had agreed to be the guardian of MJ’s youngest child Blanket. “There could always be a superseding document he signed since then,” Malnik told Lambiet. “I haven’t heard anything yet, but it’s probably too early.” After that, though, Malnik had gone silent, refusing to talk to the reporters who called to ask about it. And no 2003 will had surfaced.
There had been just two copies of that will and trust agreement, as Schaffel remembered it, one for Malnik’s files and one for Michael’s. If anyone had discovered a copy of the Malnik will in Michael Jackson’s files after his death, though, they weren’t saying. Malnik himself refused to speak on the record but told Schaffel that he wasn’t interested in producing his copy of the will Michael had signed in 2003. “Al is an eighty-year-old billionaire who doesn’t want to be bothered with all this,” Schaffel explained. “He certainly doesn’t need the money—“
“In late August 2012, after sixteen months of refusing to answer any questions at all, despite multiple offers of the opportunity to do so, John Branca, through his attorney Howard Weitzman, agreed to respond to questions from me, if they were “put into context.” Essentially, Branca and Weitzman wanted me to reveal what I had. Despite the fact that this book had already gone into production, my publisher and I agreed and I responded with an e-mail to Weitzman in which I outlined the four major areas of question or controversy:
_questions involving the preparation and signing of the 2002 will;
_questions about the circumstances of Mr. Branca’s termination as Michael Jackson’s attorney in February 2003;
_questions about whether Michael Jackson, at the time of his death, actually wanted John Branca to serve as his executor;
_and questions about whether John Branca was in fact rehired as Michael Jackson’s attorney in June 2009.
_I also invited Mr. Branca to respond to the criticism of him by members of the Jackson family for the degree to which he had been personally enriched by his administration of the Michael Jackson estate.
*Weitzman responded forcefully and persuasively to the question about whether Branca was rehired in 2009, first by arranging for a conference call with Michael Kane, who had been hired as Michael Jackson’s business manager shortly before his death and who continued to serve in that capacity for the estate.
*Weitzman also arranged a conference call with Joel Katz, who had been hired as Jackson’s entertainment lawyer in the spring of 2009 –
Team Michael Jackson Note: Joel Katz was removed and replaced with Branca according to Randy Phillips due to conflicts of interest. Katz worked for AEG at the time of contract negotiations as well as Michael. Katz had also worked for Sony in the past. Katz now works for Sony/ATV on behalf of the Estate
Howard Weitzman had no real answers to offer, though, about the other three areas of question and controversy I submitted to him.
*On the question of why the will shows that it was signed in Los Angeles on July 7, 2002, a date when Michael Jackson was in New York City, Mr. Branca was choosing not to reply, Weitzman told me.
*Weitzman claimed that he himself had not been given an explanation for the discrepancy, stating that he had heard different stories from different people.
Weitzman, of course, insisted the July 7 will was not fraudulent and was signed by Michael Jackson in the presence of three witnesses. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Branca was talking to a reporter from Forbes named Zack O’Malley Greenburg, who had just written a story for his magazine that would be published even as Weitzman and I were talking. “The Scandalously Boring Truth About Michael Jackson’s Will” the article was titled. In it, Greenburg explained that even if the 2002 will had been found to be invalid, there were two other Michael Jackson wills in John Branca’s possession, one executed in 1997 and the other in 1995 that would have become the successor documents. And both of those wills, as Greenburg reported, named John Branca as one of Michael Jackson’s executors. So Branca had absolutely no motive to submit a fraudulent 2002 will, Weitzman pointed out to me after he recited the facts that were the basis of the Greenburg article.
*What both Weitzman and Greenburg somehow ignored, though, was that in February 2003, when he was terminated as Michael Jackson’s attorney, Branca had been ordered to surrender “all” documents in his possession, not just the 2002 will, but the 1997 and 1995 wills as well. If Branca had done what he was supposed to do, he would have had no Michael Jackson wills in his possession at the time of Michael’s death, a fact that renders both Weitzman’s argument and Greenburg’s thesis irrelevant.
*Weitzman had no reply to offer from Branca to the question of why he had failed to surrender the originals of Michael Jackson’s wills in 2003. Again Weitzman told me that his client was declining to answer any questions on that subject. When I pointed out that Branca’s refusals to answer questions about the problems with the will itself and about his failure to return it to Michael Jackson in 2003were inevitably going to raise suspicions, Weitzman said he understood this, but had to obey his client’s instructions.
*Weitzman did attempt at one point to suggest that perhaps Branca had simply handed off the 2003 termination letter from Michael Jackson to an assistant who had somehow failed to include the will (or wills) in the documents returned to Jackson.
I pointed out that this was implausible. If the will had surfaced months after Michael’s death when files were being moved into storage or something such as that, then the story that the failure to return the will was an oversight by an assistant would perhaps be believable, I told Weitzman. But the fact was that Branca knew he had the 2002 will at the time of Michael Jackson’s death and immediately began the process of producing it for certification, then presented it to the court within a week of Jackson’s death. And if Branca knew he had the will, I pointed out to Weitzman, then he knew he had failed to do as he had been instructed to do by his former client back in 2003. And that, by the standards of the State Bar, was not ethical.
*Weitzman didn’t like hearing this from me, but he had no answer for it, either. Weitzman quite reasonably pointed out that John Branca couldn’t be expected to respond to claims about the things that Michael Jackson had said about Branca during the more than six years that passed between his 2003 termination and Michael’s death.
What startled me, though, was how exercised Branca and Weitzman were by the subject of the 2003 Michael Jackson will that named Al Malnik as executor.
*Weitzman said he had spoken to Malnik and that Malnik had told him that will “was never filed.” Later Weitzman stated that Malnik had told him the will “never existed.”
That was strange. My initial knowledge of the Malnik will had come from Marc Schaffel, who told me he had been one of the two witnesses to Michael Jackson’s signature at Malnik’s home in Florida. I would have been a little shaky if all I’d had to base my belief in the 2003 will was on Schaffel’s statements. But I had discovered that on the day of Michael Jackson’s death, Malnik had given not one but two telephone interviews to journalists in the Miami Beach area in which he stated that, as of 2004, he was the executor of Jackson’s estate, on the basis of a document signed in 2003. The first interview was given to Palm Beach Post columnist Jose Lambiet and the second to a reporter at the CBS affiliate in Miami, Lisa Petrillo. The Petrillo interview had been tape-recorded and played on the air during an evening broadcast.
*When I sought counsel from attorneys about what could be motivating Malnik to claim there never had been a 2003 will, if he was in fact saying that, two of them did bit of legal research for me and reported that, Malnik, as an attorney, had been obligated by the California Probate Code to produce any Michael Jackson will in his possession within sixty days of Michael’s death. If Malnik had possessed such a will and failed to produce it, he might face some legal consequences. What this all comes to I have no certain knowledge. I am convinced, though, that the 2003 Michael Jackson will did exist and I told this to Howard Weitzman.
Weitzman’s replies to the questions concerning whether Branca was rehired and to those who have criticized him for using his own law firm to prepare a will that named him as executor of the Michael Jackson Estate were incorporated into the text in an earlier chapter of this book. In the letter that Weitzman sent to me and my publisher in John Branca’s formal reply to my questions, the attorney stated:
“Mr. Branca and Michael Jackson had a long and multifaceted personal and professional relationship that, admittedly, was interrupted at certain points in their careers for various reasons. Those who harbor no bias or animus against Mr. Branca acknowledge his contributions to Michael’s career, and recognize his role and that of his co-executor in the stunning financial turnaround of the estate after Michael’s death.”
Disclaimer: Team Michael Jackson will be rolling out a series of blogs regarding extensive research that we have done over the past few weeks. We do not endorse books albums or any other type of products, so the source of this information has been purposely omitted. We do not take credit for the quoted information. We are providing this information as we feel its key to better understanding the hijacking of Michael’s estate and the numerous amount of fraud and deception carried out by estate executors. You will find our comments, thoughts and feedback under each quoted section.