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James Brown public records battle heats up

A Charleston attorney for the woman who claims to be James Brown’s widow is accusing a freelance reporter of being in cahoots with the former trustee of the Godfather of Soul’s estate.James Brown

Robert Rosen, who represents Tommie Rae Brown – also known as Tomi Rae Hynie – asserts that Brown’s ex-trustee Adele Pope has been feeding information to Sue Summer, a semi-retired reporter who writes for her local paper, the Newberry Observer.

He alleges in a Feb. 3 filing with the South Carolina Supreme Court that Pope sent Tommie Rae’s diary to Summer on Jan. 23, the same day that Circuit Judge Doyet Early of Aiken ruled that Tommie Rae and Brown were married when he died in 2006.

Summer is trying to figure out why former state Attorney General Henry McMaster meddled in Brown’s estate by negotiating a settlement that allowed Tommie Rae and others to take almost half of a nearly $100 million estate that Brown had intended to be used to fund scholarships for impoverished children in South Carolina and Georgia.

After McMaster removed them from the case and hired his own trustee, Pope and her fellow former trustee, Bob Buchanan of Aiken, successfully challenged the settlement. McMaster responded by hiring a private law firm to sue Pope and Buchanan, according to Summer’s reporting.

Rosen described the articles that Summer has written about the Brown case as “one-sided” reports that “effectively serve as briefs for Mrs. Pope.”

“Mrs. Summer has been promoting Adele Pope’s agenda, acting as Adele Pope’s alter ego and apparent agent for years and is thereby legally identified with Pope’s interests,” he added.

Pope denies that she gave the diary to Summer. But if Rosen’s allegation is true, it could mean that Summer is subject to a gag order that Early issued in 2008 preventing people with ties to Brown’s estate from publicly discussing the diary.

In late January, Early issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited Summer from publishing the contents of Hynie’s diary, but she had already posted the diary on her Facebook page, where she reported that its contents raised questions about whether Tommie Rae was Brown’s widow.

Summer believes that the diary proves Tommie Rae was married to another man when she wedded Brown, which would invalidate their marriage. But Rosen contends that the other man already had a wife when he married Tommie Rae, making her marriage with Brown legal.

Summer has asked the state Supreme Court to stay the restraining order and prohibit Early from exercising jurisdiction over her. Tommie Rae wants the high court to allow Early to hold a hearing on the restraining order.

Rosen says that whoever leaked the diary to Summer violated Early’s gag order. He wants to force Summer to reveal her sources and hand over her notes, records and everything else she has pertaining to her reporting on Tommie Rae.

“This controversy is not a simple Freedom of the Press case in which a journalist’s right to free speech is under attack,” Rosen wrote. “This is actually a controversy about whether persons unknown can violate the orders of the court with impunity and act in blatant contempt of a judge’s order and be protected in so doing by this Court.”

The state Supreme Court recently held that Summer was protected by the state’s reporter’s shield law and quashed a subpoena that Tommie Rae issued seeking Summer’s notes.

Now, Rosen argues that Summer is not entitled to the shield’s protection because she is not a bona fide reporter.

That argument “ignores reality,” according to Summer’s attorneys, Thomas Pope III of Pope and Hudgens in Newberry and Jay Bender of Baker Ravenel & Bender in Columbia.

Thomas Pope is married to Adele Pope.

He and Bender noted in a response to Tommie Rae’s filing that The New York Times published an article about Summer and quoted her editor as referring to her as a “journalist’s journalist.”

“Clearly, she is protected by the privilege,” they told the Supreme Court.

They contend that Tommie Rae’s arguments are “not valid and are not supported by the record,” saying that she erroneously asserts that her right of privacy trumps Summer’s free speech rights.

They also say that Tommie Rae has no privacy right because her diary remains in the attorney general’s possession and should be considered a public document. And even if her privacy had been invaded, they assert that she could bring a lawsuit against Summer, but would not be entitled to the injunctive relief she seeks.

The Supreme Court has not set a hearing date for the case.

– Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @SCLWBantz

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