Robyn Beck/Pool/Getty
August 08, 2009 08:15 AM

It wasn’t just a victory. It was finally a moment of relief for Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine, 79, when she won custody of her three grandchildren, Prince, 12, Paris, 11 and Blanket, 7.

And helping make this possible was New York lawyer L. Londell McMillan, whose longtime ties to the Jackson family are as personal as they are professional, giving him a uniquely intimate perspective on Katherine’s ordeal.

“After last Monday, it was like a load was taken off of her, and she’s kicking her heels a little bit,” McMillan tells PEOPLE. “She’s got her grandchildren, they’re set. She’s starting to rock and roll. She’s getting her grandma swagger back.”

The kids have been her saving grace amidst her son’s tragedy. “It’s been very painful for her,” says McMillan. “But she has been busy trying to make sure that these children will be provided for.”

Bonding with Michael, Katherine and Michael’s Kids

McMillan, who got his law degree at New York University after majoring in collective bargaining at Cornell, began working with Michael about four years ago, when Jackson was faced with a breach of contract lawsuit filed by the Prince of Bahrain. “My relationship with Michael was one of trust,” he explains.

He also represented Katherine in a couple matters, and built a connection with her. “I lost my mom almost 20 years ago, but [she and Katherine] were similar in being selfless, loving to laugh and being the most loyal person in the room,” says McMillan. “Katherine is a wonderful lady.”

His other credentials include helping Michael refinance his Beatles catalog, liberating the artist known as Prince from a Warner Bros. recording contract he was famously unhappy with, and founding the non-profit Artist Empowerment Coalition.

As for Michael’s children, the lawyer says: “They’re in a great spot. They love their grandma. She is a very vibrant and youthful 79-year-old woman. Mrs. Jackson will be the matriarch of love that she has always been for this family.”

He also laughs when recalling the oasis of fun Hayvenhurst has been for Michael’s kids. “They love spraying water guns on people – especially those in suits,” says McMillan. “If you come into their space, you will get sprayed. Oh, they wait for me to turn that corner!”

Growing Up with Jay-Z

Before launching his career representing showbiz legends like Michael and Stevie Wonder, Katherine’s lawyer came up through the Bedford-Stuyvesant projects in New York City.

“I went to the same junior high school as Jay-Z and [30 Rock star] Tracy Morgan,” says McMillan, who dreamed of going to the NBA or NFL. “We were kids in the projects, running around.”

Now McMillan co-owns the New Jersey Nets with Jay-Z, and is something of a hip-hop mogul himself: The publisher-owner of The Source magazine also co-owns a women’s shape-wear line, Sliminizer with Kate Liegey, designer of Jessica Simpson‘s upcoming lingerie collection.

And while the custody case is over, there is much more to be done for Katherine. “She’s focusing on making sure that Michael’s estate will be protected, preserved and nurtured with her trust, counsel and care,” says McMillan. “That’s why she wants a seat at the table [regarding his will]. I am confident that Mrs. Jackson will honor the spirit of what Michael wanted.”
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