Godfather's estate settled, for now

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AIKEN --- A judge's approval Tuesday of a settlement on the estate of James Brown favors family members, including his last wife and young son, and allows for the creation of a museum or other memorial to the soul singer.

Barnwell, S.C., native James Brown died Dec. 25, 2006.  File/Staff
Barnwell, S.C., native James Brown died Dec. 25, 2006.

Aiken Circuit Judge Jack Early's ruling ended, at least for now, a court battle that lasted for more than two years and included a threat by former estate trustees to appeal the settlement if it was approved.

On Tuesday, some involved in the case said they hoped that former trustees Adele Pope and Robert Buchanan would reconsider but that they weren't worried about an appeal, which could last a couple of years.

"We're anticipating the estate will move forward," said Robert Rosen, the attorney for Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, who in Tuesday's settlement agreement was established as the surviving spouse of the Godfather of Soul. "We're anticipating they (Ms. Pope and Mr. Buchanan) will appeal, and several years from now some appellate court will dispose of whatever it is. But in the meantime I'm hoping we're going to get a fresh start."

Messages left for Ms. Pope and Mr. Buchanan at their offices Tuesday weren't immediately returned.

The approval of the settlement gives nearly half of Mr. Brown's estate to his charitable trust; about a quarter to his wife and young son, James Brown II; and the rest to his adult children. The judge also wrote in his ruling that Mr. Brown's relatives will create a museum or other memorial burial place for the late singer. Mr. Brown was placed in a crypt at the Beech Island home of one of his daughters on March 10, 2007.

Through her lawyer, Mrs. Brown said she is thrilled with the judge's decision.

"I am so relieved and happy that the court has approved this settlement," she said in an e-mail. "I want to be able to work with the trustees and other Brown family members to promote James Brown's legacy. My son James and I are grateful to the judge and hope this nightmare is finally over."

Mr. Brown's daughter, Deanna Brown Thomas, also expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

"It has been a struggle, but God has blessed us and we are thankful," she told the Associated Press. "We look forward to working towards the goals of our father by providing education scholarships for impoverished students and his own grandchildren and making his home a museum for the world to come and see."

The settlement was in contrast to the instructions spelled out in Mr. Brown's will and trust after his death on Christmas Day 2006. Some of Mr. Brown's adult children contested the bequest, claiming their father's estate was mismanaged by the three trustees who preceded Ms. Pope and Mr. Buchanan.

Although Ms. Pope and Mr. Buchanan had argued in court that the settlement left out essential parties, family members said it upheld Mr. Brown's legacy, and they called for Ms. Pope and Mr. Buchanan's removal as trustees.

The settlement agreement did just that, establishing Columbia accountant Russell Bauknight as the estate's successor trustee. Mr. Bauknight was appointed earlier to examine the proposed settlement, and he had recommended that it be approved.

In his ruling, Judge Early wrote that "the settlement is just and reasonable and provides a just and reasonable result for the charitable beneficiaries. From the perspective of the charitable beneficiaries, the risks of not approving the settlement agreement are substantial."

The value of Mr. Brown's assets has not been made public. Some of his possessions were auctioned for $850,000, partly to pay debt. Attorneys have said Mr. Brown's accounts have little money. Future income -- from royalties and the sale of Mr. Brown's likeness -- is what's at stake, attorneys have said.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110 or preston.sparks@ augustachronicle.com.


Read the 45-page court filing on the settlement here.


About 50%

Charitable trust

About 25%

Six adult children

About 25%

Surviving spouse, son

The settlement establishes that Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, a former backup singer to Mr. Brown, is the surviving spouse and her son, James Brown II, is his child.

Mr. Brown's attorneys had claimed she was not Mr. Brown's widow because she was still married to another man when she and Mr. Brown said their vows in 2001.


DEC. 25, 2006: James Joseph Brown, 73, the "Godfather of Soul," dies at 1:45 a.m. at Emory Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta of a heart attack brought on by pneumonia.

DEC. 26, 2006: Trustee Buddy Dallas tells The Augusta Chronicle that Tomi Rae Hynie Brown "is not Mrs. Brown. She is not his widow," but rather his estranged girlfriend.

JAN. 11, 2007: Mr. Brown's will is read in an informal meeting at the Aiken County Judicial Center, with his adult children present but not Mrs. Brown or James II. The will calls for his personal effects to be divided equally among six named heirs: daughters Venisha, Yamma and Deanna and sons Terry, Larry and Daryl: and says any omissions are intentional. The bulk of Mr. Brown's holdings are in an irrevocable trust separate from the will, with the beneficiaries listed as Mr. Brown, the Brown Family Education Trust and the James Brown "I Feel Good" Trust. The trust gives unrestricted legal authority to trustees Buddy Dallas, David Cannon and Alford "Judge" Bradley to oversee his legacy, music rights, persona and 62-acre estate.

JAN. 24, 2007: The six named heirs file a petition demanding the removal of the three estate trustees, alleging that they have mismanaged the estate.

FEB. 1, 2007: Mrs. Brown files two petitions saying she is the "omitted spouse" and is entitled to half or one-third of his estate.

Feb. 6, 2007: Atlanta attorney Louis Levenson, representing the six Brown children and multiple grandchildren, files a motion asking that a special administrator be appointed to oversee the estate. The petition says the three trustees are also executors of his will, creating a conflict of interest because they claim to be owed money from the singer's estate.

FEB. 9, 2007: In a court hearing, Aiken County 2nd Circuit Judge Jack Early delays a decision on whether to remove the personal representatives or appoint a special administrator.

MARCH 8, 2007: Judge Early names Aiken attorney Bob Buchanan and Columbia lawyer Adele Pope "special administrators" to help the trustees execute the will.

MARCH 26, 2007: The estate attorneys file a motion asking Judge Early to order DNA taken from James II for a paternity test.

JULY 2, 2007: James II's guardian ad litem files a lawsuit seeking a claim of any inheritance for the child, saying he was unintentionally left out. An affidavit by Mr. Dallas, however, says Mr. Brown called the child "Little Man," not son, and had requested that a paternity test be done after his death.

JULY 31, 2007: The special administrators file a motion asking Judge Early to remove "one or more" of the three trustees, alleging that they've mishandled the estate. Mr. Cannon is accused of possible misconduct.

AUG. 10, 2007: Mr. Cannon hands over a check for $350,000 and resigns as a trustee. Forlando Brown, one of Mr. Brown's grandsons, tells The Chronicle there is a rift in the family and that he, his brother and his father, Terry Brown, have been ostracized for siding with the trustees. His aunts and uncles are trying to break the trust to get their father's money, Forlando Brown says.

SEPT. 24, 2007: Mr. Cannon is accused in a court hearing of mishandling $7 million of Mr. Brown's money. Judge Early orders him to pay $373,000 within 10 days for a loan Mr. Brown received against his royalties.

NOV. 7, 2007: Mr. Brown's first wife, Velma Brown, 73, files papers in Aiken County Probate Court claiming they never divorced. Her attorney, David Bell, of Augusta, says he couldn't find a divorce decree in Georgia. He says a lack of one would void any subsequent marriages.

NOV. 8, 2007: The Chronicle finds the decree divorcing Mr. Brown and Velma Brown on file in Richmond County Superior Court. It was signed by Judge John Hardin on Aug. 26, 1969.

NOV. 20: Mr. Dallas and Mr. Bradley resign as estate trustees before a hearing on their possible firings. Ms. Pope and Mr. Buchanan become trustees.

NOV. 30: The Georgia Attorney General's Office files papers saying it's not in the best interest of the trusts to have Ms. Pope or Mr. Buchanan overseeing them.

DEC. 4, 2007: Mr. Dallas tells The Chronicle he was pressured to resign by Judge Early. He and Mr. Bradley want to withdraw their resignations.

DEC. 21, 2007: Judge Early sets a deadline of 120 days to address whether Tomi Rae Hynie Brown was Mr. Brown's common-law wife at the time of his death.

DEC. 29, 2007: Five of Mr. Brown's children ask that a judge void his will. They say Mr. Dallas, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Cannon used fraud and "undue influence" when the will and trusts were drafted so that they would profit from managing the two charities.

FEBRUARY 2008: Judge Early orders that the singer's possessions and homes be auctioned to pay mounting legal bills and overdue estate taxes.

MARCH 2008: An article in GQ magazine says Mr. Brown had a vasectomy and could not be the father of James II.

APRIL 26, 2008: Judge Early orders a DNA test for James II. The test would ultimately show that James II is Mr. Brown's son.

JULY 1, 2008: Judge Early says he will order possible heirs to take a DNA test.

JULY 17, 2008: Mr. Brown's belongings fetch more than four times the amount trustees had expected at auction, allowing $400,000 in debt to be paid.

SEPT. 29, 2008: Judge Early receives a proposed settlement agreement that says Mrs. Brown was the legal wife of the singer, and all children and grandchildren mentioned in the agreement are Mr. Brown's lawful heirs.

MARCH 3, 2009: Adele Pope, the trustee, called the settlement agreement "unjust" and told Judge Early she would appeal a settlement if it's granted.

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pattym35 05/27/09 - 07:44 am
and we care because why????

and we care because why????

CKB 05/27/09 - 08:30 am
And we have to keep hearing

And we have to keep hearing about this for how many more years? Can they settle their problems quietly and out of the media and let the general public live better while they battle it out? I am so glad Tomi Rae Hynie Brown has been "proven" his wife- she should never have been placed under the public microscope, and certainly not his child. I am glad this part of the nightmare is over for them. Can you imagine the Brown family ever being wrong? This must have rocked their word a lot!

colcamp1 05/27/09 - 09:07 am
You do not have to read it.

You do not have to read it.

justus4 05/27/09 - 09:27 am
How did this judge determine

How did this judge determine that this lady was his "surviving spouse?" Wasn't she already married? That decision appears to be suspect and allows for speculation. This is why justice, in many people's eyes, is actually only a crap shoot. Then, she & child gets the same percentage as six siblings. This entire ordeal is a cry shame.

sjgraci 05/27/09 - 10:35 am
justus4 I really am on your

justus4 I really am on your side politically most of the time and am right there with you on equallity but you really do come across as a rascist. I was at James Brown's going home celebration and heard the same rascist comments being made towards his wife. If she were black, you and the others like you would have no problem with the same judicial decision. And, I would not either. It's beyond time to get over it man. The rascists and bigots on all sides are dying out. We have a black man in the highest office and a latina woman about to be in the highest court. There is no turning back now. America is changing for the better. Fight the real battles. This is not one of them.

FLORIDAChild 05/27/09 - 10:45 am
What happens to his other 3

What happens to his other 3 daughters? Who makes the rules?

jrock1956 05/27/09 - 11:28 am
I agree with you sjgraci

I agree with you sjgraci about America is changing for the better! But then you read about stuff like Montgomery County High School, having a white's only prom! And it makes you wonder. But back to Mr. Brown. If he only had legitimate trustee's instead of so called lawyer/friends! A lot of this stuff could've been avoided! Never mix business and friends. Would you trust your estate to a man who's name sounds like it belongs to a used car salesman? Buddy?

Evans Ga.
Evans Ga. 05/27/09 - 11:57 am
Well, the children of Mr.

Well, the children of Mr. Brown never came around and now they are looking for hand outs,,,,but then agian Mr. Brown wasn't a good moral figure for his children either so it goes both ways. When I say this, before any of you go "What, he is a great moral figure", you must 1st see a snapshot of his criminal history. Just because he is from Augusta and made it big dosen't give him the excuse to be a "wife beater" etc.

As for his kids, 25% split by 6....what is all that about. He made this children to and Tomi isn't going to do anything but blow her money on drugs, and the partying lifestyle that (anyone who knows her) knows that she carries.

jrock1956 05/27/09 - 02:24 pm
Evans.Ga...Can you name me a

Evans.Ga...Can you name me a "good moral figure"? Other than anyone associated with a religion that is! On second thought! You can throw some of them in the mix also. I'm sure there are plenty of "good moral figures" in the religious community like Catholic priests, Baptist and Evangelical ministers who have fallen from grace...or into Grace in some cases! Should we lessen the impact of individuals in our society because of their moral ineptitude? How many of our Presidents have been wife beaters, drunks, cheaters (wife, test, war, whatever), addicts, slaveowners and liars?

WW1949 05/28/09 - 09:23 am
jrock, I am a good moral

jrock, I am a good moral figure, never been arrested, never beat my wife, never fathered children with someone else while married or single. . I do not look up to drug addicts, I pity them because of their habit. I do not look up to men who have relations all over the country and father children that they do not support, and I do not look up to people that wave guns or beat their wife. I look up to people who are decent accountable people. It is a shame that people look up to the Hollywood types with all their problems. Teach your children better and that these are not the type of people to emmulate.

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