For those who’ve been keeping track of the James Brown probate case, or if you’re simply interested in knowing where things stand 6 years after his death, this report for the Newberry Observer, from writer Sue Sumner, should bring you up to date on all the drama.
*On Friday night (05-11-12) former James Brown trustee – Adele Pope of Newberry, South Carolina – was served with a subpoena related to the diaries of Brown’s former companion, Tommie Rae Hynie.
Pope is being asked to turn over all written communications related to the Hynie diaries, including any communications with this reporter, any “blogger, website or media outlet.”
The Observer has requested a copy of the diaries from Attorney General (AG) Alan Wilson under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the request was refused in March.
In a telephone interview in November, 2011, a longtime friend of music icon James Brown characterized the Hynie diaries as “explosive.”
After Brown’s death in 2006, Hynie claimed to be Brown’s wife and sued his estate for a share of his $100 million music empire. The two had exchanged vows in 2001, but Hynie was married to another man at the time. When Brown discovered her marriage, he sued Hynie for an annulment. The Aiken County case was settled when Hynie signed an agreement that she would never claim to be Brown’s common-law wife.
Brown’s will and trust contain clauses that say anyone who challenges his estate plan receives nothing—but those clauses were not enforced by former Attorney General (AG) Henry McMaster. Instead, McMaster worked a settlement deal that gave away over half of Brown’s music empire to those he specifically disinherited, including Hynie and about half of his alleged children.
Under Brown’s estate plan, the six named children received his household and personal effects, and certain grandchildren under age 35 were given education funds of up to $285,000 each. The bulk of Brown’s music empire was to provide scholarships for needy and deserving students in South Carolina and Georgia through the “I Feel Good” Trust.
The McMaster settlement deal was appealed to the S.C. Supreme Court by Pope and co-trustee, Robert Buchanan of Aiken. During the hearing on Nov. 1, 2011, assistant AG “Sonny” Jones was questioned sharply by the court regarding the AG’s investigation into Hynie’s claim to be Brown’s wife.
A longtime friend of Brown’s, during a telephone interview, suggested that the diaries could be key in disallowing Hynie’s claim and returning about $25 million to the Brown trust for needy and deserving children.
The diaries had been available to all parties early in the case, but Judge Doyet Early ordered the original returned to Hynie’s attorney, Robert Rosen, and copies delivered to the Clerk of Court– until a hearing was held.
Judge Early’s order was issued in Feburary of 2008–four years ago–but no further hearing has been held.
Pope, who served as Brown trustee from late 2007 to 2009, is an attorney who has represented herself in a number of the Aiken County proceedings before Judge Early. On May 11 and May 12, Pope sent letters to the S.C. Attorney General, urging Wilson to consent to the release of all documents related to Hynie’s claim to be Brown’s spouse. Pope also requested that Wilson release documents related to a $4.7 million at-death appraisal of Brown’s music empire.
The current trustee, Russell Bauknight of Columbia, obtained the appraisal but has refused to deliver copies–and he has refused to name the appraiser.
Brown’s music empire was earning $4-5 million a year in royalties before his death.
Pope declined to comment but provided the Observer with copies of the subpoena and her letters to the Attorney General.
In her May 12 letter to AG Wilson, Pope asserts that the AG’s office holds or controls “all documents necessary to tell the truth” about Hynie’s claimed status and the value of Brown’s music empire. She then asks Wilson to make the documents public “so the truth will be known.”
Judge Early has scheduled a hearing on whether to release the Hynie diaries for May 22 in Lexington County.