COLUMBIA -- Trustees who say they were unjustly removed from the charitable trust of the late soul singer James Brown urged South Carolina's Supreme Court on Tuesday to strike down the estate settlement.
The justices questioned an attorney for former trustees Adele Pope and Robert Buchanan about their contention that then-South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster didn't have the authority to push through the deal that ended years of fighting among Brown's heirs.
Pope and Buchanan asked that the settlement be reorganized by a lower court.
The dispute began shortly after Brown died of heart failure on Christmas Day 2006 at age 73.
His death touched off years of bizarre headlines, beginning with his widow Tomi Rae Hynie being locked out of his 60-acre estate and photographers capturing her sobbing and shaking its iron gates, begging to be let in.
McMaster, who ultimately brokered a settlement in 2009, said the dispute over the estate would have continued without his intervention. Half a dozen of Brown's adult children had bickered for years after their father's death before agreeing to the settlement.
They said they support the deal and want the litigation to end so that the trust can be put to its intended use -- funding education for needy children in South Carolina and Georgia.
Pope and Buchanan, who were removed as trustees by a circuit judge who approved the deal, sued over the 2009 deal.
That complex settlement gave about half of Brown's assets to an education fund for needy children, a quarter to his widow and young son and the rest to his adult children, arguing that they were not party to the negotiations that led up to the settlement and were removed because of their opposition.
"The attorney general has absolutely no authority to step into litigation and purport to sign settlement agreements," said James Richardson, an attorney for Pope and Buchanan.
Richardson argued that the judge who approved the McMaster plan was misinformed over what role the attorney general should play in such cases.
Under McMaster's deal, a professional manager took control of Brown's assets from the estate's trustees, wiping out a $20 million debt and opening the way for thousands of needy students to receive full college scholarships.