Former Brown trustee files complaint

One of the second set of trustees assigned to monitor the James Brown estate has filed a complaint against new trustee Russell Bauknight and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, alleging that they refuse to release documents that she says should be public records.


In 2007, Adele Pope and Robert Buchanan were named by Aiken Judge Jack Early to replace trustees David Cannon, Buddy Dallas and Alfred Bradley, and the new trustees discovered that a $900,000 check had been misdirected into the trust's checking account, according to a Court of Appeals decision.

That wasn't the end of the soul singer's estate troubles, however. A year later, then-Attorney General Henry McMaster, of South Carolina, named Bauknight, a Columbia accountant, as a neutral trustee to replace Pope and Buchanan and review a proposed settlement, agreed upon by Brown's heirs, which divided his assets among his widow, his children and a charitable trust.

Pope and Buchanan, by then requesting several million dollars in fees, challenged the settlement and their removal. Litigation among them and Bauknight and the attorney general's office awaits a fall hearing before the South Carolina Supreme Court. That hearing appears to be the last major impediment to settling Brown's estate.

In Pope's new complaint, filed a week ago in Newberry County, she questions an assertion made by Bauknight that Brown's estate was worth only $4.7 million at his death Dec. 26, 2006, and places its value far higher, at $85 million.

In addition, she demands the final version and all drafts of a document called the James Brown Legacy Trust, which she says should be a public record; questions McMaster's use of contingency-fee attorney Kenneth Wingate to represent the attorney general's office and 10 other plaintiffs against her and Buchanan; and maligns several witnesses on Wingate's list.

A spokesman for Pope declined to comment, as did Bauknight. A spokesman for Wilson said his office was reviewing Pope's complaint.

Brown's daughter, Deanna Brown Thomas, recently held a summer music camp for area kids through her James Brown Family Children Foundation without any estate support.

Loose ends remain among her family members' litigation against Pope, Buchanan and Cannon, from whom the estate seeks restitution. Her father had warned his children that they should be wary of people seeking to take advantage of the situation, Brown Thomas said.

"My father told us all that we were going to have to stick together and to fight, because if we don't, people were going to rip us off," she said.

That has happened in the form of two sets of estate administrators, she said, and a particularly grating aspect of Pope's and Buchanan's handling of the estate was their selection of several irreplaceable family heirlooms to auction to pay estate expenses.

Among them was a Grammy Award, which Pope sent to international auction company Christie's before it was intercepted by Grammy officials, who reminded her that the awards can't be sold, Brown Thomas said. The award is now on loan to the Augusta Museum of History.

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Read a copy of the complaint