Judge to stay on Brown case

Special
Former trustee Buddy Dallas said he didn't expect recusal.

AIKEN --- The judge presiding over legal challenges to James Brown's estate refused to step down from the case on Friday, denying a request by two former trustees that he recuse himself.

 

Buddy Dallas and Alford Bradley, who both quit in late November, have accused Judge Jack Early of improperly pressuring them to resign and of having ex parte communication with other attorneys involved in the matter.

But after the two-hour hearing in Aiken County Court, Judge Early said he would not recuse himself from the case he's been overseeing for a year.

"I have done nothing improper, inappropriate, anything that violates judicial canon," the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court judge said. "I have conducted myself above reproach on this case."

He nearly made those statements behind closed doors, at first ordering the hearing on whether he acted improperly to be in his chambers and away from the public.

But he changed his mind without explanation after reporters for The Augusta Chronicle and the Associated Press questioned whether closing the hearing was in violation of the state's Sunshine Law. Documents about the recusal hearing had also been filed under seal.

In open court, Judge Early denied that he improperly pressured the two former trustees to resign Nov. 20 just before a hearing on allegations of misconduct lodged against the pair by the late singer's children and disputed fourth wife.

But just a few days after quitting, Mr. Dallas and Mr. Bradley filed court documents demanding to retract their resignations, accusing Judge Early of forcing them out and then violating trust rules and state law in naming their replacements.

Mr. Dallas said he hadn't expected the jurist to recuse himself, but said he and Mr. Bradley felt that Judge Early had already decided they were guilty of misconduct before ever hearing any evidence.

"I proffered my resignation under those circumstances," Mr. Dallas stressed, and said that Mr. Brown's wishes "continue to be dishonored."

Mr. Brown's will left household and personal items to six of his children, but left the bulk of his estate to two charitable trusts that are to pay to educate his grandchildren and needy kids in South Carolina and Georgia.

Both the will and trusts have since been challenged.

Mr. Dallas and Mr. Bradley -- who were longtime advisers to the singer -- have hinted in court papers that they were forced out to pave the way to voiding the trusts, which Mr. Brown had entrusted them to protect and manage.

But the singer's children and disputed widow, Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, have accused the two of badly mismanaging the singer's estate, while a third former trustee, David Cannon, has been formally accused of misappropriating up to $7 million of the music legend's money.

Mr. Cannon also wanted something from Judge Early on Friday -- reconsideration of his ruling that held the former trustee in willful contempt of court and ordered him to pay $433,000 by Jan. 25 or go to jail.

Mr. Cannon does not have the ability to pay that money, said Eric Bland, the former trustee's attorney, and the order essentially forces Maggie Cannon to pay to keep her husband out of jail. He offered an alternative: Allow Mr. Cannon to mortgage property instead.

Judge Early said he was "not inclined" to change the conditions to keep Mr. Cannon out of jail or the deadline to pay, but said he would consider holding off on enforcement of the punishment while Mr. Cannon appeals the contempt order. He said he would rule within 10 days.

Mr. Dallas said he expects they will also appeal Judge Early's ruling refusing to recuse himself, but likely not until the final order is filed.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com

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