COLUMBIA — It’s hard to plead money problems when you own a $1 million home in Honduras.
That much was apparent Tuesday as South Carolina Supreme Court justices heard an appeal by ex-James Brown trustee David Cannon, who objects to paying the attorneys’ fees connected to his contempt charges.
Cannon’s attorney, Max Pickelsimer, argued Tuesday that a lower court’s order “wasn’t jail time and attorneys’ fees. It was an either/or option.” He later acknowledged that $30,000 would be an appropriate amount for Cannon to pay but that his client could not pay more.
“You’ve dodged this question twice before, Mr. Pickelsimer. The record we have in this matter indicates (Cannon) has a very considerable asset in Honduras, a big house,” Chief Justice Jean Toal said.
She said the house “was paid for with, our record shows, money from the (Brown) estate,” calling the house “well in excess of anything that is being asked for in attorneys’ fees.”
In 2009, Cannon spent three months in the Aiken County Detention Center for failing to pay more than $400,000, as ordered by a judge in 2007, after accusations that he misappropriated the late Brown’s money. Cannon was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment but served from February through May 2009, according to the jail.
In 2007, Circuit Judge Jack Early found Cannon in contempt for filing amended tax returns for James Brown Enterprises, which was a violation of an order to cut his involvement with the James Brown Estate, and for failing to pay $433,000.
Cannon, who lives in Barnwell, S.C., and is under home confinement, according to his attorney, has said he could not pay the amount – $373,000 reimbursement to the Brown estate from a $900,000 sum that had been misappropriated, $50,000 for attorneys’ fees and a $10,000 fine.
Cannon did, however, pay a contractor in Honduras $866,000 to build a home, plus $223,000 for the land, after resigning as trustee in August 2007, according to previous reports in The Augusta Chronicle.
A circuit court ordered Cannon to pay $113,000 to Atlanta attorney Louis Levenson after receiving an affidavit from Levenson detailing attorneys’ fees and costs connected to his work “uncovering Cannon’s contemptuous conduct,” according to a court brief. Levenson has represented several of Brown’s children and grandchildren in disputes concerning Brown’s assets.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Levenson told the high court that he had even gone to Honduras and seen Cannon’s house, and said, “A remedy is available to us. Whether we can collect it is another matter.”
Pickelsimer argued Levenson’s affidavit was “so muddled” that it would be impossible to use it as the basis for the attorneys’ fees being sought.
But Levenson pressed his case.
“It’s easy for lawyers to say it’s not about the money. It’s abut the principle,” he told the justices Tuesday. “But since it is my money, it is a little harder for me to make that argument.”
James Brown died on Christmas Day 2006.
In 2000, he signed an irrevocable trust and last will and testament, leaving almost all of his fortune to poor children’s education in South Carolina and Georgia. Cannon, Buddy Dallas and Alfred Bradley were named trustees.
A snarl of legal problems continues, with Brown family members disputing the validity of the documents and alleging that he was manipulated by his advisers when he drafted his intentions.