Sunday, February 1, 2015

South Carolina Supreme Court Takes a Second Look at James Brown Settlement

South Carolina Supreme Court Takes a Second Look at James Brown Settlement


Music legend James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006, and after eight years not one dime in scholarships has been awarded from the education charity he established in his estate plan, the “I Feel Good” Trust.
On Dec. 17, the South Carolina Supreme Court made a decision that could shed light on why Brown’s charity remains in limbo.
The Supreme Court accepted two appeals filed by former Brown trustee Adele Pope of Newberry, who served as co-trustee of the Brown estate with Robert Buchanan of Aiken from late 2007 to early 2009.
The appeals are related to orders issued in Aiken County in June 2013, only weeks after the Supreme Court voided a settlement deal worked by former Attorney General (AG) Henry McMaster. Under the McMaster settlement, those who contested Brown’s will received over half of what he left to charity.
Pope and Buchanan appealed McMaster settlement, and in early May 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the deal in Wilson v Dallas, which called the McMaster settlement a “dismemberment” of Brown’s “noble” estate plan.
The Supreme Court voided the appointment of the trustee who replaced Pope and Buchanan, Columbia CPA Russell Bauknight, and returned the case to Aiken Judge Doyet A. Early with a directive to follow Brown’s estate plan.
On May 29, 2013, Judge Early held a status conference at which two attorneys for the will contestants announced they wanted to go into the Judge’s chamber and discuss another settlement: Louis Levenson of Atlanta, attorney for some of the Brown children, and Alan Medlin of Columbia, attorney for Brown’s companion Tommie Rae Hynie, who has claimed to be Brown’s wife.
Neither Bauknight nor Senior Assistant AG “Sonny” Jones objected to the proposal to reinstate the settlement. Jones further told that Court that current AG Alan Wilson was pleased with Bauknight
On June 10, 2013, Pope filed a lengthy complaint asserting that Bauknight could not and would not protect Brown’s estate plan because he has been working on behalf of Hynie, her son and others who intend to dismember Brown’s “I Feel Good” Trust.
On June 13, 2013, Judge Early issued a series of orders that booted Pope from the Brown estate proceedings in Aiken. According to Pope’s appeal, Judge Early issued the orders without notice to Pope and without holding a hearing.
In July 2013 Pope appealed the June 13 orders, and in January 2014 Judge Early dismissed most of Pope’s complaints against Bauknight, including her request to have him removed and to have him account for his actions since 2009. Judge Early’s order said Pope’s 60-page complaint failed to state a cause of action to remove Bauknight or to obtain any relief against him individually.
The January ruling became the subject of the second appeal.
In defiance of the Supreme Court directive to follow Brown’s estate plan, Judge Early did not appoint three trustees for Brown’s charity, as required by his trust documents. Instead, Bauknight was appointed as the sole trustee after he announced in court that he would refuse to serve if other trustees were appointed. The Aiken Court has also failed to provide accountings as directed by the Supreme Court.
After months of legal wrangling with Bauknight, Pope filed a motion for the South Carolina Supreme Court to take the two cases. She argued that because the Supreme Court had decided Wilson v Dallas, it was in a better position to address the issues on appeal.
Bauknight opposed the transfer, asserting that Pope should be sanctioned for “intermeddling” in Brown’s estate after being removed.
On Dec. 17 the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear the two cases. Both orders denied Bauknight’s request for sanctions against Pope.
Pope, an attorney, is representing herself in the two appeals.
According to Adam Silvernail, the attorney who defends Pope in 2010 lawsuit brought against her in Richland County by Hynie, the Attorney General and others, the appeals are unique and are important not only to Pope individually, but also to Brown’s “I Feel Good” charity.
The lawsuit in which Silvernail represents Pope, Richland 4900, was brought by the Wingate law firm of Columbia in an attempt to make Pope and Buchanan drop their appeal of the McMaster settlement, according to other pleadings.
Richland 4900 asserts that Pope and Buchanan damaged the Brown estate by tens of millions, even though Bauknight stated to the IRS that the value of Brown’s music empire—with rights to his image and over 850 songs—was worth less than $5 million when Brown died in 2006.
Earlier in 2006, the Royal Bank of Scotland prepared loan documents for Brown that valued the royalties alone at $42 million.
The Attorney General’s office now claims the AG was never a plaintiff in Richland 4900, even though the AG’s name has appeared on all pleadings for four years—and his deputy, “Sonny” Jones, was introduced at a hearing as a Wingate client.
In the AG’s petition for rehearing, filed with the Supreme Court, AG Alan Wilson recounted that former AG McMaster was reluctant to bring Richland 4900 against Pope and Buchanan, but he was advised that it would be a breach of his duty to Brown’s charity if he failed to do so.
Despite repeated email requests, the AG’s office has not released the name of the unidentified individual who advised former AG McMaster to authorize the lawsuit.
Last week the Supreme Court also accepted from the Court of Appeals an unrelated James Brown Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, in which this reporter is a party.
The James Brown estate has recently been the subject of stories in the national press. The Columbia Journalism Review published a story on the FOIA lawsuit, and on Dec. 13 the New York Times ran a front-page story on the James Brown estate.

Featured image from Shutterstock

Sue Summer

Sue Summer is a journalist from South Carolina. She has extensively covered the legal battle over James Brown’s estate.
Categories: Courts & Law

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