Trustee touts $4.7 million value for Brown Estate, despite 2016 receipts of $3 million

Sue Summer for The Newberry Observer

AIKEN — The estate of musician James Brown showed over $3 million in receipts on its 2016 accounting—and yet, trustee Russell Bauknight of Columbia continues to tout a 2010 appraisal that valued Brown’s music empire at $4.7 million when he died on Christmas Day 2006.

The music empire, including 850+ copyrights and rights to Brown’s image, was left to Brown’s “I Feel Good” Trust, an education charity for needy students in S.C. and Ga.

The estate’s 2016 accounting, not filed until February 2018, shows no disbursements for the charity, but $2 million in legal and accounting services.

The estate started the year with about $282,000, received about $3.4 million and disbursed about $3.1 million, for an ending balance of about $545,000.

One corporation, James Brown Enterprises LLC, transferred into the estate about $3 million of the $3.4 million in receipts.

It is not known what the holdings are of the LLC, how much money the LLC receives from what sources, or how the proceeds are divided— how much may go to the charity, to individuals, or to some other entity.

The LLC is listed on the accounting among “other assets” at a value of $1.

It is not known what “other assets” are included, nor is any information submitted to the Aiken Probate Court about what proceeds these entities receive and who may benefit.

Typically, a $1 value is used as a temporary placeholder when an estate is opened until an appraisal can be completed.

An appraisal of the James Brown music empire was conducted in 2010, at Bauknight’s request, and the appraisal set a $4.7 million value on the music empire when Brown died in 2006, i.e. the “at-death” value.

Bauknight has refused to release a copy of the appraisal or the documents upon which it was based. Previous trustees set the at-death value at $100 million minus a $15 million debt, or $85 million.

Receipts that total about $10 million from 2014, 2015 and 2016 would cast doubt on the low figure—as would the size of continuing payments to law and accounting firms.

In 2016 among those payments were: $400,000 for Sojourner, Caughman and Thomas; $800,000 for Nexsen Pruet; $230,000 for Bauknight Pietras Stormer; $130,000 for Crystal and Giannoni-Crystal LLC; $104,000 for Thomas and Thomas CPAs, LLC; $50,000 for Sweeny Wingate and Barrow; $52,000 for Gelfand Rennert and Feldman LLP; and $20,000 for Lewis Babcock.

The music management firm of Peter Afterman, Inaudible Productions, was also paid $363,000.

Afterman was introduced to Bauknight through an attorney for Tomirae Hynie Brown, according to Afterman’s deposition.

Tomirae Hynie and James Brown exchanged vows in 2001, but in 2003 he discovered her 1997 marriage to Javed Ahmed. In 2004, after the annulment of the Ahmed marriage, Brown vowed never to marry her, and he did not.

Yet, an Aiken Court ruled in 2015 that Brown and Hynie were married. The ruling was appealed, and oral arguments were heard in the S.C. Court of Appeals on April 17.

Even though the question of Brown’s marital status is not resolved, in 2013 Afterman helped Tomirae Hynie Brown to file termination rights claims with the U.S. Copyright Office, and in 2015, she sold rights to five James Brown songs.

Bauknight claimed in court he was unaware of the sale until “money changed hands,” but in a California federal court, it was asserted that Tomirae Hynie Brown received $1.8 million for the sale and the estate received an equal “consideration.”

After the sale, Afterman’s company continued to be paid $30,000 a month by the estate for managing Brown’s music.

The question of Brown’s marital status is important due to the Federal Copyright Act.

The at-death value of the music empire is important because it will have an effect on the size of the charity and number of scholarships available.

The value has long been disputed.

Brown died in 2006, leaving his music empire to the education charity. In 2007 several parties contested the will, despite a clause that said: anyone contests, receives nothing.

Former trustees Robert Buchanan of Aiken and Adele Pope of Newberry fought to defend the charity after a 2009 settlement in which then-Attorney General Henry McMaster gave will contestants over half of what Brown had left to charity.

Pope and Buchanan appealed. In 2013 the Supreme Court overturned the McMaster settlement, writing that the settlement “dismembered” Brown’s estate plan.

During the appeal, in 2010, Bauknight reported the low at-death value to the Internal Revenue Service. He did not, however, submit the $4.7 million value to the South Carolina Supreme Court until 2011, after filings were complete in the settlement appeal.

Bauknight was advised to withhold the appraisal in an email from one of his attorneys at the Nexsen Pruet law firm, former federal judge William Wilkins. The December 2010 email was also sent to the office of the Attorney General.

In an on-going lawsuit related to the commission claim of former trustee Pope, Bauknight has continued to stand by the $4.7 million value while his own expert witness, Roger Miller of New York, has testified the copyrights at Brown’s death had a value of $45-60 million. Another Bauknight expert, Laura Woolley, testified Brown’s personal property was worth millions of dollars.

No live testimony has been given regarding the value of Brown’s publicity rights, but a deposition of Dr. Terry Cox that set the value about $40 million is in dispute.

The Pope trial started in September, and court is being held sporadically, as Judge Doyet Early finds time on his calendar. The trial continues May 8 in Bamberg.

Sue Summer for The Newberry Observer