A scan of the wires and morning papers in the South revealed what seemed to be a legal bombshell in the continuing battle over James Brown’s estate.
Velma Warren Brown, his first wife, who married the singer in 1953, when he was scraping by as a janitor, filed papers in Aiken County, S.C., claiming that she and “The Godfather of Soul” had never divorced.
If that had been true, one lawyer familiar with the figures guessed that Mrs. Warren Brown’s claim to the late entertainer’s estate as his surviving spouse might have been worth $100 million.
Mrs. Warren Brown’s revelations might have upset the legal apple cart of Tommie Rae Hynie Brown, a backup singer who soon after Brown’s death on Dec. 25, 2006, claimed to be his surviving spouse, even though the couple’s marriage at one point had been annulled.
In fact, if Velma Warren Brown’s claim turned out to be true, Brown’s three subsequent marriages would all have been invalidated.
Alas, the claim, which was picked up by The Associated Press and the Augusta Chronicle, fizzled with a quick check of the Nexis/Lexis legal database: A Georgia divorce record for James Brown and Velma Warren was filed in Richmond County in 1969.
David B. Bell, the lawyer who filed the paperwork for Velma Warren Brown on Wednesday, said he was not aware of the filing. The Atlanta Bureau of The New York Times offered to send him the record and asked him if he would call us back with a response. “Maybe,” he replied.
In the meantime, Ms. Hynie Brown’s attorney had an assistant hot-foot it over to the Richmond County clerk’s office to get a copy of the divorce decree, which is so old it would be on microfilm. The lawyer, Robert Rosen of Charleston, S.C., was, needless to say, greatly relieved to find proof of the divorce.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall during THAT conversation:
NYT: "Mrs. Brown, you indicated yesterday that you were never divorced from James Brown in your petition for a portion of his estate, is that true?"
Velma: "Yes, that's true! James and I still had an intimate relationship through all of these years. I'm the one who put that perm in every two weeks. James and I were in love... yes we were, he was a lovely man... lovely man, indeed. Salt of the earth. I'm entitled to half of his estate!"
NYT: "Well, Mrs. Brown, we pulled court records from your divorce and it seems that you and James divorced in 1969. What do you have to say about that?"
Velma: .............. "Huh?..... whatchu had said?"
NYT: "You and James were divorced in 1969 !"
Velma: "Now dats a DAMN lie, me and James are still married!"
NYT: "Velma, we have the divorce decree... not only are you divorced, but YOU petitioned for divorce and you SIGNED the decree!"
Velma: "....... Oh yeah, I forgot about that. Ya mammy!" (Click!)
Nice try, girl... nice try!