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Legal action from Michael Jackson’s former manager set to reach trial

By | Published on Friday 10 May 2019

Michael Jackson

Attention in recent months has returned to accusations of child abuse levelled against Michael Jackson during his lifetime. However, the legal fall out from his business arrangements prior to his death almost a decade ago still continue. Now, legal action brought by Jackson’s former manager, Tohme Tohme, is coming closer to trial.

Tohme began working with Jackson in 2008 and claims that his work turned around public perception of the star significantly, paving the way for him to announce his O2 Arena residency in London. Those were the shows, of course, that never happened because of Jackson’s death. In 2010, Tohme launched legal action claiming that the Jackson estate had failed to pay him money he was owed under his contract with the singer.

Over time, that legal action has become more complicated, although at its heart it is still a dispute over allegedly outstanding management fees. The trial, scheduled to begin on Tuesday, is set to delve into Jackson’s business arrangements and relationship with Tohme.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tohme argues that he is due a 15% commission on all the money Jackson made in the year before he died, as well as a cut of revenues made from the ‘This Is It’ film that followed. He also wants a finder’s fee for securing a loan that stopped Jackson from being evicted from his Neverland ranch, and says that his contract with the singer promised him a $35,000 monthly services fee on top of any commission.

The Jackson estate counters that Tohme’s contract was terminated prior to the musician’s death. It also argues that the inclusion of the $35,000 monthly fee in his contract was unethical and meant that Tohme breached his fiduciary duties to Jackson.

At trial, Tohme is expected to argue that it is standard practice for managers to continue to receive commissions on revenues related to work they did with their former clients. This would include any income from the ‘This Is It’ film, he claims, because it could not have been made without his “advice, guidance and skilful work” to get Jackson into a position where he could announce the O2 shows, rehearsal footage from which featured in the film. Although whether or not he was actually fired is also set to be a point of contention.

Tohme also wants the fees being charged by Jackson estate administrators John Branca and John McClain to be revealed in court. He argues that the work they have done since Jackson’s death is comparable to that he did before it. This, he reckons, will show that what he’s asking for is justified.

Branca and McClain refute that there are similarities between their own work and Tohme’s. Both are scheduled to give evidence at the trial, so it’s likely that we’ll get some insight into the minutiae of what they have done, and how they have been compensated for it, over the last decade. Other witnesses expected to appear in court include Jackson’s mother Katherine and brother Jermaine.

For more on the complex legal fallout after Jackson’s death in 2009, check out this edition of CMU’s Setlist podcast.