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SC: James Brown companion moves to ban DNA-proven children from estate hearings

The companion of music legend James Brown has asked an Aiken Court in South Carolina to ban several of Brown’s children from participating in hearings that will determine if Brown had a spouse when he died on Christmas Day 2006.

According to several filings in the Brown estate case, the determination of Brown’s marital status will have an effect on the rights of his children under the Federal Copyright Act—and in turn, on his education charity.

Companion Tomirae Hynie inherited nothing under Brown’s 2000 will, which left his music empire to the “I Feel Good” Trust for educating needy children in South Carolina and Georgia.

In 2007, Hynie contested the will, claiming to be Brown’s wife and entitled to a spousal share of his estate. Under a settlement deal approved in 2009, Hynie was given one-quarter of Brown’s music empire, and the six children named in his will were given another quarter.

The settlement was overturned in May 2013 by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which called the deal a “dismemberment” of Brown’s “noble” estate plan.

Since the 2013 ruling, Hynie has renewed her spousal claim, and her motion for summary judgment is scheduled for Nov. 24.

At an Aiken hearing on Nov. 10 before Judge Doyet Early, Columbia attorney Alan Medlin argued on Hynie’s behalf that under the S.C. Probate Code, only the estate’s Limited Special Administrator (LSA) David Sojourner of Columbia should be a party in the hearing.

Sojourner was appointed in late 2013 at the request of current Brown trustee and Personal Representative, Russell Bauknight of Columbia, for the purpose of defending Brown’s estate plan against will contests and other claims.

Attorney Vera Gilford of Florida, representing DNA-proven daughter Jeanette Mitchell, argued that her client should be allowed to intervene in the Hynie hearing because the determination of Brown’s marital status will affect Mitchell’s property interests. Gilford also represents the children of another DNA-proven daughter, LaRhonda Petit, who died in December 2013.

Gilford has filed an amicus brief for the Nov. 24 hearing in which she challenges Hynie’s spousal claim.

Hynie and Brown exchanged vows in a 2001 ceremony, but she was married to another man at the time. Hynie obtained an annulment from Javed Ahmed in 2004, but Brown was so humiliated about her previous marriage that he thereafter refused to marry her, according to Brown’s former attorney Albert “Buddy” Dallas.

Gilford argues that under “Lukich v. Lukich,” decided by the South Carolina Supreme Court in 2008, Hynie’s 2004 annulment does not validate her bigamous 2001 ceremony with Brown.

In its 2013 Wilson v. Dallas ruling, the Supreme Court also expressed serious doubts about Hynie’s spousal claim based on “Lukich v. Lukich.” The Court further noted Hynie had signed two agreements, in 2001 and 2004, that she would never make a claim against Brown’s estate.

Gilford’s brief raises several questions about Hynie’s 2004 annulment. The brief also claims Hynie’s testimony at the annulment was “inconsistent, contradicted, unreliable and biased.”

In interrogatories filed with the court, Hynie has stated that her marriage to Ahmed was an immigration scam. She said Ahmed told her before their marriage that he had other wives in Pakistan, but she proceeded to marry him anyway. Hynie further claims the marriage was not consummated and the two never lived together, but Gilford’s brief includes an affidavit that contradicts those statements.

Sojourner’s attorney, John Beach of Columbia, took no position on Mitchell’s motion to intervene in the Hynie hearing.

Also at the Nov. 10 hearing, Medlin challenged the Court’s July ruling that Mitchell was an heir. Gilford responded the Court had already ruled, and Medlin’s arguments were untimely.

“We have general opposition to any move to determine heirs,” Medlin said.

Medlin advised the Court that DNA-proven, illegitimate children have no right to participate in Hynie’s hearing, and their claims to be “heirs” should be handled in federal courts under the Federal Copyright Act.

“A California lawyer represents nearly everyone here in termination rights, and they should use the federal court for this,” Medlin said.

Copyright expert and retired intellectual property attorney, Jeff Smith of Newberry, has attended several James Brown estate hearings, and he believes otherwise. “The Federal Copyright Act would look to the State of South Carolina to determine if there really was a spouse at the time of James Brown’s death, and, if so, who the spouse was.”

Smith and former trustee Adele Pope of Newberry have written a professional article about copyrights and the Brown estate.

In Pope’s appeal of 2013 orders that booted her from the Brown estate proceedings, she emphasized that the question of heirs is critically important for the protection of the “I Feel Good” Trust—and also has consequences related to rights under the Federal Copyright Act, including the rights of children not named in the will.

Judge Early first ordered an heirs determination in the Brown estate in March 2008. Former Judge Rodney Peeples developed a DNA protocol under which the heirs could be identified. Under the Peeples protocol, Mitchell and at least three others have been identified as Brown’s children and were acknowledged by the estate. A fourth child, son Michael Deon, has more recently been identified under the Peeples DNA Protocol.

Brown has at least five claimed children who were not named in the will, among them Hynie’s minor son, James II. It is not known whether he passed the DNA test: he submitted to the test only after Sojourner agreed to keep the results “confidential.”

Attorney Peter Shahid of Charleston represents Hynie’s son, who asked the Court to intervene in the Nov. 24 hearing so that James II can protect his mother’s interests. “His interest is directly affected by his mother’s interests.”

Medlin did not object to the intervention of Hynie’s son, saying, “We believe that Tomirae’s marriage was valid, and that an attempt to marry legitimizes children.”

He said, however, that he would argue against Mitchell and Petit.

One key piece of evidence about whether Brown was married may be unavailable at the Nov. 24 hearing. According to a longtime friend of Brown’s, Hynie’s diary recorded that she pleaded with him to marry her after the 2004 annulment—not something a wife would do.

Copies of the diary were available to all parties early in the case, but in 2008 Judge Early ordered the copies returned and issued three gag orders that forbade anyone to speak about the diary contents. The orders were issued without a hearing, and they were violated by Hynie herself in a television interview only months after they were issued.

Former trustee Pope moved in 2012 to have the gag orders lifted, but attorneys for Attorney General Alan Wilson and Bauknight argued on behalf of Hynie that the gag orders should be kept in place.

Featured image from Shutterstock

Sue Summer

Sue Summer is a journalist from South Carolina. She has extensively covered the legal battle over James Brown's estate.

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