COLUMBIA -- Today the South Carolina Supreme Court will take a swing at the hornet’s nest that hangs over the charitable legacy of James Brown.
Former state-appointed trustees Robert Buchanan Jr. and Adele Pope are appealing a 2-year-old settlement that they say thwarts Brown’s intentions as laid out in legal documents from 1999 and 2000. The suit pits them against the artist’s children and his wife Tomi Rae Brown.
More than a dozen attorneys representing an even larger volume of heirs and trust managers on both sides of the dispute are expected to pack the high courtroom.
The central dispute is whether to throw out a settlement that Judge Jack Early of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court approved on May 26, 2009, which replaced the charitable trust with “The Legacy Trust,” gave control to the South Carolina attorney general, and shuffled trustees.
The 2009 agreement gave half of the legendary entertainer’s assets to a James Brown Scholarship Fund, a quarter to Tomi Rae Brown and a quarter to the six adult children named in James Brown’s will.
“My clients are very desirous of the Supreme Court approving Judge Early’s careful consideration of the settlement and his approval of the settlement,” said Atlanta-based attorney, Louis Levenson, who represents Brown’s children and spouse.
“I’m hoping the Supreme Court will recognize the importance of the family and the attorney general and Tomi Rae, bringing peace to what was a contentious estate.”
Levenson added: “The appellants don’t -- according to law in South Carolina -- don’t get to disagree with that. It’s not their right to disagree (with what was agreed upon).”
But a final brief from the appellants say the settlement takes away more than half of what he wanted to give to his private foundation for needy students and instead shifts it to his adult children.
The side consisting of appellants Pope, Buchanan, and former trustees David Cannon, Buddy Dallas and Alfred Bradley and others also suggests the circuit court was wrong to to discard trustees “solely because they opposed the settlement agreement negotiated by the Attorney General.”
Brown died at age 73 on Christmas Day of 2006. He left his personal and household effects to named adult children, a maximum of $2 million for a family educational fund, and the James Brown I Feel Good Trust to benefit poor students in Georgia and South Carolina schools, according to the appellants.
Brown’s family members challenged the plan, alleging that he had suffered from the “undue influence” of others. The South Carolina attorney general intervened, said spokesman Mark Plowden, because the office is charged under state law with protecting all charitable trusts.
The trust/estate’s original tax counsel had valued Brown’s assets at $80 million to $120 million with at least $20 million already in the 2000 Trust, according to the appellants’ final brief. In 2008 Brown’s assets were pegged at $100 million with $40 million to $50 million assigned to publicity rights for his image and likeness, and $36 million to $45 million to royalties for his more than 800 published and unpublished songs.
The most recent development in the strife over the soul singer’s legacy came last week.
A circuit court judge sentenced Cannon to three years of home confinement after being charged with stealing money from James Brown. Cannon did not admit guilt but acknowledged that he could be convicted.