Attorney General (AG) Alan Wilson has rejected offers of settlement that might have released education funds for some of James Brown’s grandchildren—funds that have been tied up for 5-1/2 years.
Music legend James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006. Under Brown’s estate plan, his worldwide music empire was left to the “I Feel Good” Trust, an education charity for needy children. He left his household goods to some of his children, and he set up $285,000 education trusts for some of his grandchildren. To his companion, Tommie Rae Hynie, Brown left nothing.
Hynie and some of Brown’s claimed children contested his estate plan, despite a clause that said challengers to the will receive nothing.
In 2009 former AG Henry McMaster forged a settlement deal that gave away over half of what Brown intended for needy children to those who had contested the will. Brown’s estate documents instructed his trustees to “vigorously” defend his estate plan, and in accordance with his wishes, trustees Adele Pope of Newberry and Robert Buchanan of Aiken appealed the McMaster settlement deal.
After they filed the appeal, Pope and Buchanan were sued by Hynie, the claimed Brown children, the McMaster-appointed trustee Russell Bauknight of Columbia, some of the Brown grandchildren, and McMaster. The plaintiffs alleged that Pope and Buchanan failed to fulfill their duties as Brown’s trustees between Nov. 2007 and May 2009.
Buchanan and Pope counterclaimed, asserting that Hynie and her co-plaintiffs were liable to them (Pope/Buchanan) on various claims, including fraud on the court. Since 2010, Hynie and others have been seeking relief from default related to the counterclaims.
According to uslaw.com, “In law, ‘default’ refers to the failure of a party to do something that the law required him to do.” The plaintiffs entered default when their attorney, Ken Wingate of Columbia, failed to submit a timely response to the Pope/Buchanan counterclaims.
In May the Wingate firm reached a settlement with Buchanan, in which Buchanan paid nothing to the plaintiffs—but the plaintiffs agreed for him to be paid $500,000 from Brown’s assets.
In July and August of this year, Pope made offers of judgment to settle the lawsuit against her and her counterclaims with most of the plaintiffs. All offers called for Pope to make no payment to the plaintiffs, as was the case with Buchanan.
Among the offers Pope made were a $1 payment from the grandchildren and a promise from Pope that she would help them obtain the $285,000 education benefits Brown provided to them. From Hynie, however, Pope demanded $4 million to settle Pope’s allegations that Hynie: has committed fraud; was involved in a civil conspiracy against Pope/Buchanan; and interfered with court-ordered payments to them.
Pope made a lenient offer to Brown’s son Daryl, who recently wrote to AG Wilson and urged him to honor his father’s wishes. Daryl asked Wilson to undo the McMaster settlement deal and save the “I Feel Good” Trust. The offer to Daryl stated Pope’s position, “Those who have damaged and sought to destroy the ‘I Feel Good’ Trust—or allowed others to do so—must help restore it or be charged with the cost.”
Pope’s offer agreed that if she is re-instated as Brown’s trustee, she will not enforce Brown’s in terrorem clause against Daryl, if he immediately notifies the Court of his support for the James Brown estate plan and his desire that it be followed.
In a recent telephone interview, Daryl expressed concern that his daughters had not received the education funds that his father wanted them to have. He stated the estate earned $10 million last year, but no one returns calls when he asks about education funds for his daughter, who will graduate next year.
On Aug. 13, Pope’s attorney Adam Silvernail of Columbia was served with a motion that asked Circuit Judge Casey Manning to strike all of Pope’s offers of judgment. In moving to strike the offers, Wingate asserted that the offers contain material that is “redundant, immaterial, impertinent or scandalous.”
Wingate’s request to strike the offers was made on behalf of AG Wilson, Brown’s companion Tommie Rae Hynie, current Brown trustee Russell Bauknight (who serves at the pleasure of Wilson), and others.
Responding to Wilson and Hynie’s motion to strike, Pope filed an affidavit on Aug. 13, asserting that the rejected offers were made in good faith to prepare for and encourage settlement at a mediation, ordered by Judge Manning to take place before Oct. 17.
Attached to Pope’s affidavit was a July 30 letter from Silvernail to Ken Wingate and Mark Gende (of the Wingate firm). The letter stated that each of Pope’s offers was “not only an attempt to end the case right away with respect to that client, but also an invitation to have open discussions with your various clients in hopes that we can settle with as many as possible.”
There has been no ruling on whether Pope’s offers will be stricken.
AG Wilson Rejects James Brown Settlement Proposals, Including Grandchildren’s Education Funds
August 28, 2012
The Newberry Observer