2 Brown trustees testify about wills

AIKEN --- Two of James Brown's longtime advisers took the stand Thursday to explain why they never handed over a will that's different from the one they executed last year.

Buddy Dallas and Alford Bradley, who have both been accused of mishandling the music legend's estate and of conspiring to "siphon off" millions of his money, testified that they never mentioned a 1999 will because they were never asked about it.

Mr. Brown's 2000 will, which was filed in Aiken County Probate Court after his death on Christmas Day 2006, left the bulk of his estate to two irrevocable charitable trusts and left six of his children household and personal items.

The only major differences between the wills are that the 1999 one names four more people as trustees, including daughter Deanna Brown Thomas, and that the two trusts are revocable, which means Mr. Brown could have disbanded them at any time. Mr. Bradley testified that the 1999 will was never in his possession and that Mr. Brown changed it because he "wanted to."

He had others before that, too, Mr. Bradley said.

"When Mr. Brown would fall out with somebody, he would change his will," the former trustee said. "If they looked up there, they might find two or three more."

Mr. Dallas, who at times spoke nostalgically about the man he called a "great friend" and expressed anger at how he and Mr. Bradley were ousted and then replaced as trustees last year, said he never told two court-appointed special administrators about the 1999 will because "I was dealing with a thousand other issues and this was not one of them."

The 1999 will could be key to some of the legal challenges facing Mr. Brown's estate. Five of the six children named as heirs want the 2000 will and trusts thrown out. Because that petition has not yet been heard, Judge Jack Early kept a leash on questions about the singer's estate planning.

Although Thursday's hearing was a clearinghouse for some outstanding issues in the case, it hinted at the larger debate over where the bulk of Mr. Brown's wealth is to go: the trusts or his estate. The trusts were set up to provide scholarships for Mr. Brown's grandchildren and needy youngsters.

Mr. Dallas was unable to keep his irritation in check, and during his lengthy testimony commented on the difficulties in settling the estate amid complex legal challenges; the special administrators, who he says essentially took over and put the trustees under overwhelming pressure; and Mr. Brown's children.

Among his comments:

- "Mr. Brown didn't have any life insurance because he was afraid his kids would kill him."

- "Mr. Brown's estate is a lot more than a double-wide and a pickup. It's very extensive."

Mr. Dallas said questions about Mr. Brown's will are useless, because "James Brown did what James Brown wanted to do."

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

HIGHLIGHTS

- Two of James Brown's longtime advisers said Thursday they did not notify the court or attorneys involved in the estate about a 1999 will because they were never asked about it.

- It was the first time Buddy Dallas and Alford Bradley, who are both facing allegations of misconduct in their handling of Mr. Brown's estate, have testified in the 13 months since legal challenges were first filed over the singer's last wishes.

- David Cannon, who testified twice last year, did not take the stand Thursday. His attorney told Judge Jack Early that the former trustee would invoke the Fifth Amendment on every question.

- Judge Early refused to disqualify Atlanta attorney Louis Levenson, who is representing five of the singer's children and their children. Three of Mr. Levenson's former clients -- Mr. Brown's son Terry and grandsons Forlando and Romunzo -- tried to oust him because they do not want the will or trusts overturned, something Mr. Levenson is petitioning.