Judge allows Brown's wife back into house

AIKEN - James Brown's children got their day in court on Friday.

His alleged widow got her stuff.

And the public got a peek at the finances of the Godfather of Soul, who died Christmas Day leaving a contested will, a locked-out companion and so many questions that more than a half-dozen lawyers were in an Aiken courtroom Friday trying to sort it all out.

Attorneys for Mr. Brown's children and his wife, Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, argued that the three trustees named in the soul singer's will, Buddy Dallas, David Cannon and Alford Bradley, can't objectively oversee his estate.

They also alleged that the personal representatives might sell his assets to recoup money owed to them by the late soul singer, who died Dec. 25 at age 73.

Second Circuit Judge Jack Early delayed making a decision on whether to remove the personal representatives or appoint a special administrator to oversee the process but said he would make up his mind within a week.

He did, however, let Mrs. Brown back into her late husband's Beech Island estate to get some of her belongings before her planned return to Los Angeles on Monday. The trustees said at the hearing they would accompany Mrs. Brown when she went to the estate.

The hearing attracted the Rev. Al Sharpton, a longtime friend of Mr. Brown, who sat in the courtroom with the singer's children.

"Nobody has talked to me," Daryl Brown said after the proceedings. "Nobody has even called me. I have nothing to say about (the trustees)."

Atlanta lawyer Louis Levenson, who represents Mr. Brown's children named in his will - Terry Brown, Larry Brown, Daryl, Venisha Brown, Deanna Brown Thomas and Yamma Brown Lumar - said the trustees hadn't properly managed his assets, failing to pay property taxes and utility bills.

Mr. Levenson also told the judge that sometime between 1999 and 2000, Mr. Brown borrowed $24 million from a New York financial institution that he planned to pay back with future music royalties.

Yet in 2002, when a bank threatened to foreclose on a building Mr. Brown owned in downtown Augusta, his estate trustees, who also oversee the personal trust that contains his music rights and 60-acre Beech Island property, said Mr. Brown didn't have enough money to pay the $700,000 debt.

"There has been no accounting for the $24 million between 1999 and 2002," Mr. Levenson told the judge, who at one point warned the attorney that he was "speculating" about the money.

A 1999 USA Today story reported that an undisclosed major Wall Street financial institution was lending the singer $30 million in exchange for future royalties earned by his recording catalog. The bonds issued in the transaction were priced to yield the lending institution 7.98 percent a year, and the cost to Mr. Brown being from 8 percent to 10 percent annually.

The Augusta Chronicle reported at the time that Mr. Brown would receive advance funds for future earnings of royalties rather than waiting years for them to be calculated and paid. The deal would tie up song rights, but they would revert back to the artist after the bonds were paid off.

Charleston attorney Robert Rosen, who represents Mrs. Brown, said there was a letter showing that Mr. Brown owed Mr. Dallas $2 million, making him a creditor to the estate.

"It's abundantly clear that we have a major conflict of interest at the very least," Mr. Rosen said.

He further argued that without independent oversight, even if Mr. Brown's book of music was worth $100 million, the representatives might "sell it for $20 million to get their $2 million."

Strom Thurmond Jr., an attorney for Mr. Brown's trustees, said the men haven't had time to do their job after the will was read Jan. 18 because of interference from his children and legal action. The singer's children have taken mail and other belongings from the estate, in addition to changing the combination on a safe in his house, the attorney said.

"It's frustrating their efforts," Mr. Thurmond said.

Rodney Peeples, another attorney for the trustees, pointed out that Mr. Brown's trust was not responsible for paying his property taxes or day-to-day bills.

And Friday's hearing, he said, wasn't necessary.

"It's only money, it's only greed," he told the judge. "There's no emergency."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Judge Jack Early is expected to rule on the petitions from James Brown's children and Tomi Rae Hynie Brown within a week. The appraisal of the estate is supposed to be completed within 90 days of Jan. 18.