COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by James Brown’s former manager and ordered him to pay legal bills for an attorney representing some of the late soul singer’s children.
The justices unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling ordering David Cannon to pay fees charged by Atlanta attorney Louis Levenson but reduced the amount owed by $24,000.
Brown died of heart failure at age 73 on Christmas Day 2006. The performer’s 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.
Cannon, who had been the singer’s manager, resigned in 2007 as a trustee of Brown’s estate amid allegations he misappropriated thousands of dollars from Brown’s accounts. In 2009, he was arrested for contempt of court and spent six months in jail after telling a judge he could not return more than $300,000 to James Brown Enterprises.
Cannon eventually entered an Alford plea to two counts of breach of trust, maintaining his innocence but acknowledging that there was enough evidence to convict him of taking more money from Brown in the singer’s final years than his contracts allowed.
Prosecutors said Cannon was supposed to receive 5 percent of whatever Brown made in a year but instead gave himself close to 15 percent and, beginning in the early 1990s, was among the few people who had access to Brown’s money.
In his appeal, Cannon argued that he shouldn’t have to repay the bills, which amounted to more than $113,000, because he also spent time in jail for the contempt charge. But the justices wrote that being ordered to pay attorneys’ fees isn’t considered a punishment but instead serves as compensation.
The court also reduced the amount that Cannon should have to pay to around $90,000, accepting his argument that about $24,000 of the fees weren’t related to Cannon’s contempt charge.
An attorney for Cannon did not immediately return a phone message. Levenson said Wednesday he was pleased with the ruling and looked forward to receiving money from Cannon.
“Our point simply was that, when someone makes the work of the court and the work of the estate more expensive, there should be compensation to the parties who have been hurt by it,” Levenson said. “The Supreme Court has correctly determined the amount of the award.”
South Carolina’s to prosecutor has been involved in the controversy surrounding Brown’s estate, with former Attorney General Henry McMaster brokering the 2009 settlement that ended years of fighting among the singer’s heirs. Attorney General Alan Wilson was pleased with the ruling, said Mark Plowden, a spokesman for the office.
“The Court upheld a penalty against Cannon for his contemptuous conduct,” Plowden said.
The state Supreme Court is still considering a lawsuit filed by two trustees who say they were unjustly removed from Brown’s trust. The court heard arguments in that case in November, and it’s not known when the court will rule.
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