Brown trustee pays up, quits

Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Cannon (center)

AIKEN - A trustee of the estate of the late James Brown resigned Friday amid allegations that he misappropriated $350,000 of the internationally known performer's money.

David Cannon handed over a check for that amount during a court hearing that could have seen a judge remove him from his duties as executor of the singer's will.

That wasn't the only surprise during the four-hour hearing. With nearly two dozen attorneys in court to represent various individuals wrangling over the music legend's estate, it was revealed that:

- Mr. Brown's estate might be broke. The court-appointed attorneys who are helping settle the estate told other lawyers behind closed doors Friday that the estate and trusts that will be funded by his music royalties appear to have a "zero balance." Louis Levenson, the Atlanta attorney representing several of the singer's children, said it's not yet clear how much money is left or where it went.

- Before he died, Mr. Brown was given an "allowance" of $100,000 a month, though Mr. Levenson said his firm is still trying to find out where the singer's money went.

- Mr. Brown's former pastor has filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the needy children who are supposed to benefit from the James Brown "I Feel Good" Trust, which was created to pay for the educational needs of poor children in South Carolina and Georgia. The Rev. Larry Fryer said he's worried the money is being squandered by all the court battles.

- One of the singer's grandsons said all the legal battles over his grandfather's estate have created a rift in the family, and he accused his aunts and uncles of trying to break the trusts to get their father's money.

"People are greedy," said Forlando Brown, a student at the University of West Georgia.

He said that he, his brother and his father, Terry Brown, have been ostracized by the rest of the family for siding with the trustees.

He said his grandfather wanted needy children to be taken care of after his death and that "greed" has caused many of the arguments since Mr. Brown died on Christmas Day at age 73.

The Rev. Fryer also said he is concerned about all the squabbling. Mr. Brown created two educational trusts: one to pay for school expenses for his grandchildren and the other for needy youngsters. But many of the legal bills will likely be paid by any money in those trusts.

"If we're paying all of the money to all of the legal sources," the Rev. Fryer asked, "what's left for the children? Why have a will if you're not going to respect the wishes of the one who wrote the will?"

That was one issue that was not addressed during the court hearing in front of 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Jack Early, who had to schedule another hearing for Sept. 24 to follow up on concerns raised previously and on Friday.

He did accept Mr. Cannon's resignation as both the singer's personal representative - essentially co-executor of the will - and as trustee of the two trusts.

The court-appointed attorneys, Adele Pope and Robert Buchanan, had accused Mr. Cannon in papers filed recently of possibly misappropriating $350,000 of the singer's money just before he died. That money was returned Friday.

The other two trustees - Buddy Dallas and Alford Bradley - have been allowed to stay on, although their removal could be one of the issues argued at the September hearing.

Mr. Levenson still has a pending motion that accuses them of violating a court order not to sell off assets of the estate, and he said Friday that they have also not been adequately complying with an order to turn over financial and legal documents.

Judge Early didn't rule on that accusation - instead ordering that documents be turned over - but he said he would rule accordingly if it's proven.

"If I find any records that have been hidden or destroyed, somebody's going to answer," he said.

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