Validity of Michael Jackson's will in dispute, lawsuit says

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LOS ANGELES -- The validity of Michael Jackson's will could get a court airing next month if a business associate of the pop star's mother gets his way.

Lawyers for a Canadian businessman who works with Katherine Jackson wrote in a filing Monday that he was "in possession of evidence that casts substantial doubt on the validity of the will" and wants to present it at a federal trial set for September.

The business partner, Howard Mann, is locked in a copyright battle with the executors of the singer's estate largely over a tribute book that he produced with Jackson's mother.

In a filing in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Mr. Mann's lawyers wrote he wanted to present an attack on the will's authenticity as part of a defense to copyright infringement claims brought by executors John Branca and John McClain.

"Defendants will argue that the estate cannot produce any evidence indicating they own the assets, thereby failing the first prong of a copyright action," the attorneys wrote.

The probate court presiding over Jackson's estate accepted the 2002 will shortly after his death and an appellate court subsequently said the window for challenging the will had closed. The document put Jackson's assets into a private trust run by Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain, music industry veterans and longtime Jackson advisers. The trust benefits Jackson's three children, his mother and charities.

In recent weeks, some of his siblings, who inherited nothing, have said the will was faked and called on Mr. Branca and Mr. McClain to resign. The executors have condemned "false and defamatory accusations grounded in stale Internet conspiracy theories."

Their attorney urged a judge last month to bar any attack on the will in front of jurors, writing that it was a settled legal issue and irrelevant to the copyright claims.

"None of this evidence would constitute a legal defense to any of the claims in this lawsuit, and are offered solely so that defendants may point to their relationship with Mrs. Jackson and argue that the estate is somehow being unfair to her," the attorney wrote.

A hearing is set for Aug. 27.


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