A Newberry, S.C., journalist is caught in a legal tangle over confidential sources who she said revealed that soul singer James Brown’s widow has doubts about the legality of their marriage.
Sue Summer said her source or sources have confirmed that Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, the woman who says she was married to Brown at the time of his death, had begged Brown to marry her. They were married before she was divorced from another man, and Brown said he was too embarrassed to marry her a second time, according to Summer’s source.
“In (her) diary, she records pleading with Mr. Brown to marry her, which would indicate she knew she was not his wife,” Summer said.
A semiretired freelance reporter for The Newberry Observer, Summer was served with a subpoena in August requesting her interview notes and written, audio and video records relating to several Brown relatives and former and current estate trustees.
Summer fought the subpoena, citing shield laws that protect a journalist’s right to privileged information, until it was withdrawn this week.
On Tuesday, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson asked Mark Gende, a private attorney representing his office, to cancel the subpoena. Bryan Stirling, a spokesman for Wilson, said a letter was sent to Summer’s attorney, Jay Bender, dropping the request on Wednesday.
“I believe the subpoena was issued to keep me from writing about this case – to make me stop,” Summer said.
Summer was also served with a subpoena in May requesting she turn over any communications or documents relating to Hynie Brown’s diary, which is under a court gag order.
Brown lived in Beech Island and died at age 73 on Christmas Day 2006. He left his personal and household effects to named adult children, up to $2 million for a family educational fund, and the remainder to the James Brown I Feel Good Trust to help needy students in Georgia and South Carolina schools.
Brown’s relatives and others bickered for years about the will and whether Hynie Brown was the wife until then-South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster renegotiated the assets.
The settlement negotiated by McMaster shifted considerable assets to Brown’s family members. It gave half to a James Brown Scholarship Fund, a quarter to spouse Hynie Brown and a quarter to the six adult children named in the will.
Summer began covering the story in August 2011 after fellow Newberry County resident Adele Pope, a former trustee of the Brown estate who is currently involved in a lawsuit related to the estate, was denied Freedom of Information Act requests by the attorney general’s office.
Pope and Aiken lawyer Robert Buchanan appealed McMaster’s settlement deal claiming that Brown wanted more of his money to help educate children in need and not so much to go to his family. Both were sued by the attorney general’s office for causing damage to the estate when it was under their control from 2007 to 2009.
Summer said she is still waiting for the attorney general’s office to provide documents she requested through the Freedom of Information Act.