AG asks court to reconsider decision on James Brown estate (SC)

The legal fight over the estate of late soul singer James Brown continues, as the Attorney General is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to throw out a settlement agreement.

Attorney General Alan Wilson is asking the S.C. Supreme Court to reconsider throwing out an agreement on the distribution of assets and referring the estate back to an Aiken County courtroom.

In its rejection of the agreement, the high court found significant fault with then-Attorney General Henry McMaster.

“The compromise orchestrated by the AG in this case destroys the estate plan Brown had established in favor of an arrangement overseen virtually exclusively by the AG,” Associate Justice John Kittredge wrote.

The James Brown Irrevocable trust was willed almost all of Brown’s assets, but after a long legal process an agreement was settled on where 50 percent of the assets went to the educational trust, with Brown’s estranged wife getting 25 percent and the rest of his heirs 25 percent.

Filings asking the court to reconsider the decision deny that McMaster “hijacked the proceedings” but rather was in a tough, but fair fight with all involved.

“However, to the extent that the Court’s opinion is premised upon the Attorney General’s having effected a ‘total takeover’ of Brown’s estate or his having ‘hijacked the proceedings here,’ the Court is mistaken,” Wilson writes.

“This was not a situation where the Attorney General’s Office directed anyone or anything … here, all other Respondents had widely divergent interests and adverse positions to each other. Those positions were each represented vigorously by well-respected counsel. The settlement of such complexity and magnitude cannot be arrived at by Attorney General (arbitrarily).”

The justices criticized McMaster, who helped reach a deal after the estate had languished in court for years following the singer’s death on Christmas Day in 2006. McMaster’s deal removed Brown’s original trustees, who the singer’s family accused of mismanaging the estate to the point where it was almost broke. A professional manager took control, paid off more than $20 million in debts and made it possible for needy students to receive scholarships for college. The settlement also allowed a financial manager to license Brown’s music for use in commercials, which have included spots for Gatorade and Chanel perfume. While the justices agreed with the decision to remove the original trustees, who subsequently sued, the judges said the settlement could discourage people from leaving their estates to charity for fear their wishes would be ignored.

A hearing date has not yet been for the motion to reconsider.


AG asks court to reconsider decision on James Brown estate
Mike Gellatly
May 2, 2013
Aiken Standard

Additional coverage:

S.C. attorney general asks court to revisit Brown settlement
Sarita Chourey/Morris News Service
May 1, 2013
The Augusta Chronicle

COLUMBIA — Citing a danger to the credibility of the office, the South Carolina Attorney General has asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to take another look at the settlement of James Brown’s estate.

The high court threw out that settlement, which had been negotiated by then-Attorney General Henry McMaster, in February.

In March, state Attorney General Alan Wilson filed a petition saying that “we do not believe the court had the full story concerning the attorney general’s role in the Brown settlement.”

It also takes issue with the justices’ characterization of McMaster.

“Contrary to the court’s implication throughout its decision, the attorney general is not a dictator, and he did not dictate the terms of this settlement,” it reads.

“This settlement arrived at was fair, reasonable, and was approved by a highly regarded circuit judge after seven strenuous, hard-fought days of hearings.”

Wilson’s petition asks the court to modify its opinion and says the power of the office is at stake.

It reads: “We fear the decision will have a lasting adverse impact upon the credibility of the Office of Attorney General, which this court has recognized as the executive office designated to protect charitable trusts and defend the public interest.”

In February, the Supreme Court overturned the settlement, writing that McMaster was wrong to “become completely entrenched” in the process that discarded Brown’s will and placed McMaster in charge of choosing a managing trustee.

In November 2011, the Supreme Court had heard arguments over whether to invalidate a settlement that Judge Jack Early of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court approved in 2009.

The settlement gave half of Brown’s assets to a James Brown Scholarship Fund; a quarter to his widow, Tomi Rae Brown; and a quarter to the six adult children named in Brown’s will.

The legendary singer’s wishes, however, were to help impoverished children in South Carolina and Georgia schools.

He had left his personal and household effects to named adult children, a maximum of $2 million for a family educational fund, and most of his assets to scholarships for needy children.

In documents filed with the rehearing request, Wilson defends the settlement procedures.

“The Brown trust was at risk of being enervated, if not decimated, by litigation,” the documents say. “In our judgment, a trust, created by a music legend for one of the most noble of purposes, was at risk of receiving nothing.”

The settlement was reached after Brown’s family members fought the singer’s plan, alleging he had suffered from the “undue influence” of others.

But the Supreme Court had said there was no evidence Brown had been manipulated by others when he spelled out his wishes.

Brown died at age 73 on Christmas Day in 2006.

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