/ 3 July 2009

Ex-wife’s custody bid looms over Jackson memorial

Michael Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe cast a shadow over the unveiling of plans on Friday for the King of Pop’s memorial service next week, as a legal battle shapes up over custody of their kids.

Rowe told a Los Angeles TV station on Thursday she wanted to care for her two children with Jackson, and a court hearing over guardianship — temporarily awarded to Jackson’s 79-year-old mother Katherine Jackson — was delayed one week.

But Rowe’s attorney said his client’s words were distorted in the interview and she ”has not reached a final decision” about whether to battle her ex-husband’s mother in court.

An elaborate public memorial for Jackson, who died suddenly last week, will be held on Tuesday in Los Angeles, and about 11 000 tickets will be given away for the service at the 20 000-seat Staples Centre.

Concert promoter and Jackson backer AEG Live said in the service was set for 17.00GMT at the rock concert and sporting venue in downtown Los Angeles, and that further details would be unveiled on Friday.

Jackson’s death on June 25 after suffering cardiac arrest at his rented Los Angeles mansion has prompted tributes from fans and musicians worldwide and sent many of his records back into the top of music charts.

Meanwhile, Rowe — the mother of Jackson’s two eldest children, Prince Michael Jackson Jr (12) and Paris Michael Katherine Jackson (11) — appeared to be setting the stage for a legal wrangle with Jackson’s parents over their future.

”I want my children,” Rowe was quoted as telling NBC4 television in Los Angeles.

But her lawyer, Eric George, told reporters on Thursday that Rowe was still considering her position.

”I am representing to you now, Debbie has not reached a final decision concerning the pending custody proceedings,” George said.

”Distortion of the truth”
”I have no reason to doubt that what was reported from that conversation was accurately and ethically recorded, but that said, it would be a distortion of the truth to allow that single snapshot of a single conversation to stand as the truth of Debbie’s position,” he said. A court hearing on guardianship originally set for July 6, has been changed to July 13.

Temporary guardianship was granted earlier this week to Jackson’s 79-year-old mother, Katherine Jackson. A 2002 will signed by Jackson specifically cut Rowe out of his estate and asked that his mother take care of the children.

Celebrity magazine People characterised the brewing legal dispute as a ”fierce custody battle” and said Rowe spoke to her former attorney Iris Finsilver, who said of the conversation: ”She is going to be pursuing custody of the children.”

Although details of Tuesday’s memorial service have yet to be unveiled, Los Angeles media said Jackson’s family may hold a service at the Forest Lawn Mortuary then motorcade to Staples Centre.

The arena was the site of the singer’s last rehearsals for a planned 50-concert comeback tour in London that was due to start on July 13 and was backed by AEG Live.

Video clips of a rehearsal two nights before he died, given to the media by AEG, show Jackson looking thin but performing more like his old superstar self.

But reports of his prescription drug use continued to swirl on Thursday, and law enforcement sources said the US Drug Enforcement Administration had been asked to help Los Angeles police in their investigation.

Several bags of medicines have already been removed from Jackson’s house by coroner’s officials.

His brother Jermaine Jackson said on Thursday that reports of Michael Jackson’s possible drug use had hurt his family.

”Michael has always been a person who was against anything like that … But in this business the pressures and things that you go through, you never know what one turn[s] to,” Jermaine said on NBC’s Today show. — Reuters