James Brown’s Will: Is It Inching Toward Closure After 14 Years?

Ms. Hynie, a singer who met Mr. Brown in 1998 after she performed a show in Las Vegas, has been a key player in the legal battle over Mr. Brown’s assets. Independent of what Mr. Brown had spelled out in his will regarding beneficiaries, as his widow, she would have had the right under state law to a third of his estate value, Professor Malagrinò said.

But when Mr. Brown and Ms. Hynie married in 2001, she was married to another man: Javed Ahmed. She said in court that she had later learned that he had three wives in his native Pakistan. (After Mr. Brown learned of Ms. Hynie’s earlier marriage, he filed for an annulment in 2004.) Ms. Hynie’s lawyers have argued that Mr. Ahmed was a bigamist and that, as a result, her earlier marriage was void. Lower courts had upheld that view and declared her marriage to Mr. Brown as valid.

But, citing its 2008 ruling in another case, the state’s highest court disagreed: “All marriages contracted while a party has a living spouse are invalid unless the party’s first marriage has been ‘declared void’ by an order of a competent court.” In the case of Ms. Hynie’s marriage to Mr. Ahmed, no such declaration had occurred.

Robert Rosen, one of Ms. Hynie’s lawyers, said in a statement, “We are naturally very disappointed in the ruling.” He said he planned to “file a petition to reconsider and rehear the decision.”

Ms. Hynie, who was entitled as spouse to a share of Mr. Brown’s music copyrights under federal law, has already settled part of her dispute with the estate. Under that settlement, Ms. Hynie had agreed to give the charity 65 percent of any proceeds from her so-called termination rights — copyrights that, though once sold, can return to the songwriter or his heirs after several decades, according to court papers.

“Mrs. Brown,” said Mr. Rosen, “had given up her contests to the estate and charitable trust and agreed to give substantial funds from her very valuable federal rights to the charitable trust for needy students, which otherwise would not go to the charity. In our opinion, under her plan, many more millions of dollars would have flowed from those federal rights to the charitable trust if she had been confirmed as the surviving spouse.”

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