Judge orders release of emails in James Brown estate lawsuit (SC)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A judge says South Carolina officials must release emails concerning the diary of James Brown’s widow and other documents related to the nearly decade-long fight over the late soul singer’s estate.

Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith Jr. on Friday told the state Attorney General’s Office it has 10 days to produce the documents, even as it appeals to the state Supreme Court against a July ruling requiring their release. Lawyers for the office had argued the records should be kept from the public during the appeal.

The documents include emails discussing the diary of Brown’s widow, Tomi Rae Hynie, an appraisal of Brown’s assets and discussions about how much the state should pay a private law firm for its help in the fight over Brown’s estate.

Freelance journalist Sue Summer requested the emails under the state’s Freedom of Information Act as she investigates whether the lawsuits over Brown’s estate have derailed his wish in his will to help poor children get scholarships. She is still asking for the original records as well.

In his appeal of the July ruling, state Attorney General Alan Wilson said the records in question were already put off limits by other judges in several other lawsuits surrounding Brown’s estate. Agency spokesman Mark Powell said lawyers were reviewing Friday’s ruling and haven’t decided what to do next.

Judge Griffith also ruled last week that the state must pay Summer’s legal bills, and that about 30 additional emails and letters must be turned over to Summer and made public. Wilson’s office had submitted the material to Griffith, asking that it be kept private.

Summer’s attorney Thomas Pope said he hasn’t seen the latest documents, but thinks they concern how much the Attorney General’s Office was going to pay a private firm to help handle the lawsuits.

“All I know right now are the senders and the recipients,” Pope said.

The fight over Brown’s estate is a legal mess. The original trustees were removed from the case, accused of mismanaging Brown’s music catalog and allowing the estate to fall into crushing debt. Dozens of people took DNA tests, claiming Brown was their father and they were eligible for a slice of what The Godfather of Soul left behind when he died on Christmas Day in 2006. There remains an argument over whether Hynie and Brown were legally married.

Then the state of South Carolina stepped in and brokered a deal that gave nearly half of Brown’s estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to his widow, Hynie, and leaving the rest to be split among his adult children.

But the state Supreme Court rejected that settlement last February, saying it ignored Brown’s will which called for most of his money to be given to a charity to help poor children get an education.


Judge orders release of emails in James Brown estate lawsuit
Jeffrey Collins
January 20, 2015

Additional coverage:

Reporter called to Aiken court after publishing diary in James Brown saga
February 1, 2015
The Aiken Standard

A reporter has been called into a hearing in Aiken on Monday by Judge Doyet A. (Jack) Early after she published samples of a diary written by Tommie Rae Hynie in the ongoing saga concerning James Brown’s estate.

In an attempt to prevent the publication, Newberry reporter Sue Summer also has been ordered to bring notes, background information and her cellphone.

“The is a major test for the Shield Law and the prohibition of prior restraint on publication,” said Bill Rogers, S.C. Press Association executive director.

SCPA attorney Jay Bender said, “The First and 14th amendments have consistently been interpreted to preclude prior restraint of publication except in the most extreme circumstances.”

Summer said she published the documents and story at midnight Thursday, and her attorneys sent Early a letter that informed him of the publication.

Early signed an ex parte restraining order Friday morning, after the documents already had been published.

On Friday afternoon, Summer was served with a subpoena that requires her presence at a hearing in Aiken on Monday at 2 p.m. The restraining order, however, does not mention when and where the hearing will be held (the order says within 10 days).

The diary was a public document before Early put the gag order on it several years ago.

“It’s an idiotic request,” said Summer’s lawyer, Thomas Pope. “The reporter shield law makes that absolutely sacrosanct.”

The ‘Hynie diary’

An Aiken judge ruled on Jan. 13 that Hynie was the wife of music legend James Brown when he died on Christmas Day 2006.

Summer wrote there is, however, evidence to the contrary in the pages of what appears to be the public document known as the “Hynie diary,” which was sent anonymously to Summer on Jan. 23.

The “Hynie diary” is a collection of notes that were found abandoned in the Brown home by the original three Brown trustees, who have since been removed. The notes were transcribed and disseminated to more than 40 people before Early issued a series of gag orders in 2008 at the request of Hynie’s attorneys.

The gag orders, which Early issued without a hearing, required all “diary” copies to be returned and prohibited any discussion of the diary contents.

In her 2007 will contest, Hynie claimed she was Brown’s wife and entitled to a spousal share of his estate. Her claim was disputed by several of Brown’s children and the original trustees, who said Hynie was married to another man, Javed Ahmed, when she and Brown exchanged vows in 2001.

In other filings, Hynie has characterized her 1997 marriage to Ahmed as an immigration scam – she said he had other wives in Pakistan when she married him.

The contested marriage

According to Brown’s former attorney, Albert “Buddy” Dallas, Brown was so humiliated when he discovered her previous marriage that he vowed never to marry her, and he did not, even after her 2004 annulment of the Ahmed marriage.

Hynie and Brown did live together at Brown’s home for some time.

The diary entries from early 2006 reveal her frustration that he would not renew their vows.

The diary has material that could be interpreted to refute the conclusion that she was Brown’s wife.

The document includes 65 pages, and the 13-page transcription shows more than 20 references to how much she wanted Brown to marry her. Among them are:

“I want to be married. I want the real respect I deserve …

If he doesn’t marry me … it will break my heart …

If he has any respect for me, he will take me to justice of the (peace) …

I wouldn’t be the same grumpy old woman if he took me to the court house and made it right.”

In one post, the diary records that Brown wanted to appear “single and ready to mingle,” and he is quoted as saying, “I ain’t got no wife! You get nothing.”

One entry seems to foreshadow the eight-year battle over Brown’s estate: “(T)hey would fight me for all they’re worth and they won’t get a penny when I get through with them in court.”

The diary also includes other details such as Hynie worrying about Brown’s health, how much he loved her and how she had to be careful to not slip back into drug addiction.

“I Feel Good” Trust

Before his death, Brown had set up his estate plan, known as the “I Feel Good” Trust, to benefit an education charity for needy students in South Carolina and Georgia. His estate includes his worldwide music empire, with copyrights to more than 800 songs and rights to his image.

To six children named in the will, Brown left household goods, and he set up a family education trust of up to $2 million for some grandchildren. He left nothing to Hynie in the plan.

– The S.C. News exchange and the Associated Press contributed to this report.