NEWBERRY — At a recent hearing in the estate of music legend James Brown, an agreement was reached that the son of Brown’s companion, Tomirae Hynie, would undergo a properly administered DNA test to determine paternity.
But the results may never be known.
The March 31 agreement included a confidentiality clause discussed in court by Georgia attorney David Bell, who asked the judge to make an exception for his client, Velma Brown. If the test proves Hynie’s son was not James Brown’s, Bell argued, the court should allow him to notify the Social Security Administration.
After Brown’s death, Hynie filed for her son to receive social security benefits as Brown’s son, Bell said. As a result of her claim, benefits were reduced for Velma, Brown’s first wife. If Brown is not the father of Hynie’s son, Velma’s benefits can be reinstated.
Judge Early said he would entertain a motion regarding confidentiality at the appropriate time. “I’m not going to get into social security matters today.”
The agreement for the confidential DNA test was made among several attorneys, including: Robert Rosen of Charleston for Hynie; A. Peter Shahid of Charleston for her son, who turns 13 in June; and John Beach for David Sojourner, Jr., both of Columbia.
Sojourner is Limited Special Administrator (LSA) for the Brown estate. He was appointed at the recommendation of current trustee Russell Bauknight of Columbia for the purpose of defending the estate plan against will contests.
Hynie is among those who contested Brown’s will, and she has also claimed to be his spouse even though she was married to another man when the two exchanged vows in 2001.
No reason for the confidentiality clause—or why Beach agreed to it—was offered in court.
Hynie herself publicized widely the results of a 2008 DNA test that was not administered according to standard laboratory practices.
A Google search reveals in only seconds how Hynie announced in several media outlets that the 2008 test proved her son’s father was James Brown. Test results posted on-line, however, show this disclaimer: “The samples were not collected according to AABB guidelines and the laboratory cannot verify the origin of the DNA samples.”
After Brown’s death in 2006, at the request of the original trustees, former Judge Rodney Peeples developed a DNA protocol for helping the estate to determine Brown’s heirs. Three daughters passed the Peeples DNA Protocol and were acknowledged as Brown’s children: Jeanette Mitchell Bellinger, LaRhonda Petit, and Cinnamon Nicole Parris. A son, Michael Deon, more recently passed a DNA test and was acknowledged in an April 22 court order.
According to previous pleadings, Brown had a vasectomy 22 years before he died in 2006, during child support hearings related to Michael. Since then, Hynie’s son is the only child who has claimed Brown as a father.
DNA results and a ruling on whether Hynie was Brown’s spouse are important in determining who are Brown’s heirs under the Federal Copyright Act, according to previous pleadings by the second set of Brown trustees, Adele Pope of Newberry and Robert Buchanan of Aiken.
Brown left his music empire to an education charity for needy children, the “I Feel Good” Trust, and his household goods to six children named in the will. Brown left Hynie nothing.
Five of the six children and Hynie contested the will and trust, despite clauses that said anyone who contested either document would receive nothing. Former Attorney General (AG) Henry McMaster did not enforce that clause. Instead, he worked a 2008 settlement deal that gave away over half of what Brown left to charity to those who contested the estate plan.
Pope and Buchanan appealed the settlement, and in May of 2013, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the deal, calling it a “dismemberment” of Brown’s noble estate plan.
The confidential DNA test continues a long pattern of secrecy in the Brown estate proceedings.
•In 2008 Judge Doyett Early III, without holding a hearing, issued a series of gag orders to prevent the 50+ people who had read Hynie’s diary from the discussing the contents. A longtime friend claims the diary reveals how Hynie pleaded with Brown to marry her—offering evidence that she was not married to him and she knew it.
•Sole trustee Bauknight has failed to release accountings for LLC’s he created as an appointee of the Attorney General. No information has been released about owners/officers, nor have any financial reports been issued—not even to the Attorney General.
•The Attorney General has failed to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) several public documents: the Wingate contract; the appraisal upon Bauknight based a $4.7 million at-death valuation of Brown’s estate to the IRS; the Legacy Trust, which was created by McMaster in the settlement deal.
In a letter to public officials about their duty to comply with FOIA, found on the S.C. Press Association website, Attorney General Alan Wilson wrote: “(S)unlight is essential to the survival of our representative democracy … a vigilant press corps is a requisite for good government.”
The Newberry Observer is one of few media outlets that is continuing to cover the James Brown estate and continuing to watch what happens at the proceedings. Before the March 31 hearing in Bamberg, Hynie’s attorney Robert Rosen ridiculed the newspaper for its continued interest.