James Brown Estate: What a settlement means for other pending lawsuits

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW) -- Judge Doyet Early will sign the official order to uphold the settlement in the James Brown Estate any day now.

The settlement resolves five of the six lawsuits contesting James Brown's Will. Now, only Tomi Rae Hynie's suit contesting the Will remains.

What does this mean for other pending litigation?

One lawyer says it sounds like more progress than it is.

"It is an odd settlement. It doesn't resolve anything," attorney David Bell said.

Bell represents three of the Brown children. He did not want the settlement to go through.

While the settlement does fully resolve Yamma, Venisha, Deanna, Larry, and Tonya's Will contest claims, Bell says the fight is far from over.

"Tomi Rae Hynie and her attorneys are still contesting it so you still have a fight going on as to whether it's valid or not valid," he said.

So, how did we get here?

About a year ago, the SC Supreme Court stepped in and put all rulings and hearings on hold.

"They had that under advisement for a couple of months and then had a very short order where they lifted the stay. They praised Judge Early and commended him for working through a difficult case," Bell said.

That means it was no longer in the state Supreme Court's hands.

In fact, right now there's nothing about the estate pending in the Supreme Court of South Carolina.

The only thing still in progress is the question of whether Tomi Rae Hynie is the legal spouse of James Brown, and that's in the Court of Appeals.

"I think the big fight right now is Tomi Rae's marital status. To me right now that is a more critical issue than a Will contest," Bell said.

That's the one issue where all the Brown children are united. They want Judge Early's ruling that she was the spouse overturned.

"If she's found to be the wife, it changes everything," Bell said.

If she's the wife, Tomi Rae controls the money flow from James Brown's copyrights, money that, according to the Godfather's Will, should go into a trust.

"Not if she terminates them, which she will have the absolute right to do under Federal copyright law," Bell said.

If Tomi Rae is not the wife, the kids control that money.

Right now, there's no timeline on when the appeals court could make a decision on the status of Tomi Rae.

Here are the options:

The appellate court could rule she's the wife. Then, they'd have to decide if the prenuptial agreement is valid.

They could rule she's not the wife, or they could decide it's a jury issue. If that's the case, it could drag on for years.

As it stands now, the four adult children named in the settlement would keep the property James Brown wanted them to have, remove the clause saying anyone who contests the Will gets nothing, and give them a payout of $147,000 collectively.

In turn, they'll cooperate with the estate and end their legal fight against the Will.