AIKEN, South Carolina — The South Carolina Supreme Court cancelled a lower court's Monday hearing in which a freelance journalist covering the fight over the estate of soul singer James Brown might have been forced to reveal her sources.
Circuit Judge Doyet Early III opened court by waving his cellphone and telling the lawyers about the ruling that came in less than 30 minutes before the hearing was scheduled to start.
The justices ruled that only the Supreme Court can decide whether the request that reporter Sue Summer give up her cellphone, notes and other records is legal.
An attorney for Brown's widow wants to know who sent Summer his client's diary, which was supposed to be kept secret under a judge's order. Summer said she was sent the diary last week in an envelope with no return address. She published it on her Facebook page after giving lawyers and Early a few days to object.
The judge held a hearing on a different matter to decide who can attend an upcoming mediation hearing aimed at settling the legal fight over Brown's estate, which is entering its ninth year. The date for the mediation has not been set.
"I encourage and hope y'all will go into this with open hearts and open minds," Early said in a brief hearing, during which his frustration with the case was obvious.
The state Attorney General's Office earlier brokered a settlement, but the state Supreme Court ruled it didn't follow Brown's wishes that a good chunk of his estate pay for education for poor children. That threw it back into Early's courtroom.
In an important twist, Early ruled last month that Brown's widow was legally married to the singer when he died on Christmas Day 2006. The ruling could mean Tommie Rae Brown, as she legally calls herself, could be eligible to inherit a sizable piece of Brown's estate and royalties from The Godfather of Soul's music catalog.
It has been a long fight for Tommie Rae Brown, previously Tomi Rae Hynie. She found herself crying outside the locked gates of James Brown's home after he died as trustees kept her out. Brown's will, written before their marriage ceremony, didn't include her or the couple's child. Some close to Brown said the singer was angry to learn Tommie Rae was married to another man when she married him. But Judge Early ruled Tommie Rae's husband in the earlier marriage was void because the man she married was wed to someone else at the time. That, the judge ruled, means Tommie Rae's marriage to Brown was valid.
But the diary is important because it may cast doubt on her confidence in the marriage. Tommie Ray Brown wrote several times she was frustrated James Brown wouldn't go to a justice of the peace to make sure their marriage was legal.
Tommie Rae Brown's lawyer said her writings are personal papers that have nothing to do with the estate and shouldn't have been removed by trustees without her permission after James Brown died.
Attorney Robert Rosen plans to be at the mediation on behalf of his client. But even he isn't sure how many people will be there, as the pool of people making claims includes Brown's widow, his children, his grandchildren, original trustees kicked off the case and others.
"I don't know, 20, maybe 30?" Rosen said. "It's something I that I really have no idea."
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