Judge Wants Emails Regarding James Brown

A judge says South Carolina officials must release emails concerning the diary of James Brown’s widow and other documents related to the nearly decade-long fight over the late soul singer’s estate.

Photo: Matt Dunham/AP,file
Live 8 concert at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith Jr. on Friday told the state Attorney General’s Office it has 10 days to produce the documents, even as it appeals to the state Supreme Court against a July ruling requiring their release. Lawyers for the office had argued the records should be kept from the public during the appeal.

The documents include emails discussing the diary of Brown’s widow, Tomi Rae Hynie, an appraisal of Brown’s assets and discussions about how much the state should pay a private law firm for its help in the fight over Brown’s estate.

Freelance journalist Sue Summer requested the emails under the state’s Freedom of Information Act as she investigates whether the lawsuits over Brown’s estate have derailed his wish in his will to help poor children get scholarships. She is still asking for the original records as well.

In his appeal of the July ruling, state Attorney General Alan Wilson said the records in question were already put off limits by other judges in several other lawsuits surrounding Brown’s estate. Agency spokesman Mark Powell said lawyers were reviewing Friday’s ruling and haven’t decided what to do next.

Judge Griffith also ruled last week that the state must pay Summer’s legal bills, and that about 30 additional emails and letters must be turned over to Summer and made public. Wilson’s office had submitted the material to Griffith, asking that it be kept private.

Summer’s attorney Thomas Pope said he hasn’t seen the latest documents, but thinks they concern how much the Attorney General’s Office was going to pay a private firm to help handle the lawsuits.

“All I know right now are the senders and the recipients,” Pope said.

The fight over Brown’s estate is a legal mess. The original trustees were removed from the case, accused of mismanaging Brown’s music catalog and allowing the estate to fall into crushing debt. Dozens of people took DNA tests, claiming Brown was their father and they were eligible for a slice of what The Godfather of Soul left behind when he died on Christmas Day in 2006. There remains an argument over whether Hynie and Brown were legally married.

Then the state of South Carolina stepped in and brokered a deal that gave nearly half of Brown’s estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to his widow, Hynie, and leaving the rest to be split among his adult children.

But the state Supreme Court rejected that settlement last February, saying it ignored Brown’s will which called for most of his money to be given to a charity to help poor children get an education.