NEWBERRY — Attorney General Alan Wilson has dropped his support for gag orders related to the diary of James Brown’s companion, suggesting that the attorney general’s support for the woman and a discredited settlement deal brokered by a former attorney general might be eroding.
Responding to a May 16 motion by former Brown trustee Adele Pope of Newberry, Wilson agreed on May 23 to be removed as a party in the appeal of the diary gag orders. Pope’s motion also asked to dismiss former Brown trustee, Russell Bauknight of Columbia.
Bauknight’s appointment as trustee was voided by a May 8 Supreme Court decision.
The gag order appeal was filed by Pope last year after Judge Doyet Early of Aiken refused to set aside gag orders issued in 2008. That ruling keeps over 40 people from discussing the contents of Tommie Rae Hynie’s diary, which might hold the key to resolving questions raised by the S.C. Supreme Court and others about whether Hynie was Brown’s wife.
Brown and Hynie exchanged vows in 2001, but she was married to another man at the time. Brown felt humiliated when he discovered her previous marriage, and according to then-attorney Albert “Buddy” Dallas, Brown vowed that he would never marry her.
Based on Hynie’s marriage, Brown sued to void their 2001 vows and requested DNA testing for her son. The suit was resolved when Hynie signed an agreement that she would never claim to be Brown’s wife. According to Dallas, Brown and Hynie stayed together at times but she maintained a separate residence, and they finally separated in the summer of 2006.
Despite the signed agreement, after Brown’s death on Christmas Day 2006, Hynie claimed to be his wife and contested his will, asking for a spousal share.
To defend against Hynie’s claim, the original trustees of Brown’s estate copied and distributed to over 40 people some handwritten notes they found abandoned in Brown’s home after his death. The notes have since become known as the “Hynie diary.”
According to a longtime friend of Brown’s, the diary offers convincing evidence that Hynie was not Brown’s wife and that she knew it. Allegedly, the diary records in Hynie’s own handwriting that she pleaded with Brown to marry her, but he refused.
The diary was available to various parties for a year before Hynie’s attorneys asked Judge Doyet Early of Aiken to have all copies returned to the Court and to issue an order that would keep anyone who had read the diary from discussing its contents.
Early issued the 2008 gag orders requested by Hynie’s attorneys, saying he would hold a hearing on the matter in 10 days. No hearing was ever held.
Hynie was subsequently included in a settlement deal brokered by former Attorney General Henry McMaster. In the deal, Hynie received a one-quarter share of Brown’s music empire which might be worth about $25 million.
Brown’s estate plan gave his music empire to his “I Feel Good” Trust for needy students in South Carolina and Georgia.
Former trustees Pope and Bob Buchanan of Aiken appealed the McMaster settlement, which was overturned by the Supreme Court on Feb. 27. The Court criticized the deal as “unjust” because it did not follow Brown’s estate plan, and it criticized the AG for “overreaching.”
Wilson filed a motion that asked the Court to reconsider its Feb. 27 opinion and reinstate the settlement, but the Court refused. A revised opinion issued May 8 did soften the Court’s criticism of the attorney general but not its criticism of Hynie’s claim to be the wife.
In Pope’s May 16 motion to dismiss the attorney general as a party to the gag order appeal, she wrote: “For five years two attorneys general have supported and bolstered Tommie Rae’s claim to be Brown’s spouse while all Brown fiduciaries prior to Bauknight assert her claim has no merit.”
Pope claims this “high-level” support gave the false impression that Hynie was indeed Brown’s spouse.
In pleadings last May, Pope argued the release of the Hynie diary would allow her to defend herself in a multimillion dollar lawsuit filed in Richland County by Hynie, the attorney general, Bauknight and others. In filings since May 2012, the AG joined Hynie’s attorneys in their attempt to keep the gag orders in place.
Hynie’s attorneys made career-threatening allegations against Pope, accusing her of filing documents with the Court that included “statements that are false,” and they have threatened Pope with sanctions. Before the May 2012 hearing, this reporter was issued a subpoena in which Hynie’s attorneys demanded reporters’ notes and a list of sources. The subpoena was quashed under the Shield Law.
“The Gag Orders prevent me from fully protecting myself against … attacks by the settling parties,” Pope wrote in an affidavit that accompanied her May 16 motion.
If the gag orders are lifted by the Supreme Court on appeal, and if the diaries show Hynie is not Brown’s wife, it could affect millions in the education charity.
Pope and Buchanan fought for six years to defend Brown’s estate plan as written, in support of the education trust. In a May 17 letter to Wilson filed in Aiken County, Pope pleaded for Wilson’s help to protect the “I Feel Good” charity.
In overturning the settlement deal, the Supreme Court returned the proceedings to Judge Early of Aiken. He had scheduled a status conference for May 29 on various matters related to the Brown estate.
Hynie’s counsel is continuing the fight to keep the gag orders in place. Robert Rosen of Charleston has filed a 200-page motion to dismiss Pope’s appeal. No ruling on the motion has been issued.