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Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate

Family of James Brown settles 15-year battle over his estate

The family of entertainer James Brown has reached a settlement ending a 15-year battle over the late singer’s estateBy MEG KINNARD Associated PressJuly 24, 2021, 2:10 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — The family of entertainer James Brown has reached a settlement ending a 15-year battle over the late singer’s estate, an attorney involved in the mediation said Friday.David Black, an attorney representing Brown’s estate, confirmed to The Associated Press that the agreement was reached July 9. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.Legal wrangling over the Godfather of Soul’s estate has been ongoing since his death at the age of 73 on Christmas Day 2006.The performer’s death touched off years of bizarre headlines, beginning with Tomi Rae Hynie — a former partner who claimed to be Brown’s wife — being locked out of his 60-acre (24-hectare) estate while photographers captured her sobbing and shaking its iron gates, begging to be let in.Brown was renowned for hundreds of iconic musical works including hits like “I Feel Good” and “A Man’s World,” and was known around the world for his flashy performances and dynamic stage presence. But years of drug problems and financial mismanagement caused his estate to dwindle.More than a dozen lawsuits were filed over the years by people trying to lay claim to the singer’s assets, which courts have estimated to be worth anything from $5 million to more than $100 million.The fight over Brown’s estate even spilled over into what to do with his body. Family members fought over the remains for more than two months, leaving Brown’s body, still inside a gold casket, sitting in cold storage in a funeral home.Brown was eventually buried in Beech Island, South Carolina, at the home of one of his daughters. The family wanted to turn the home into a shrine for Brown similar to Elvis Presley’s Graceland, but that idea never got off the ground.Last year, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Hynie had not been legally married to Brown and therefore did not have a right to his multimillion-dollar estate.Justices also ordered a circuit court to “promptly proceed with the probate of Brown’s estate in accordance with his estate plan,” which outlined creation of a trust that would use his music royalties to fund educational expenses for children in South Carolina and Georgia.A 2009 settlement plan would have given nearly half of Brown’s estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to Hynie, and the rest to be split among his adult children. The state Supreme Court overturned that deal in 2013, writing that then-Attorney General Henry McMaster — now the state’s governor — hadn’t followed Brown’s expressed wishes for most of his money to go to charity, having instead selected a professional manager who took control of Brown’s assets from the estate’s trustees to settle debts.———Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

3 GOP House members lose appeals over $500 mask fines

3 GOP House members lose appeals over $500 mask fines

Three Republican U.S. House members have lost appeals challenging fines for not wearing face coverings on the House floor earlier this yearBy MEG KINNARD Associated PressJuly 21, 2021, 1:05 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Three Republican U.S. House members have lost appeals challenging fines for not wearing face coverings on the House floor earlier this year.On Tuesday, the U.S. House Ethics Committee released statements noting that U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina had failed in their appeals of $500 fines issued in May.The Republicans challenged the fines in June, arguing that the mandate was out of sync with recent federal guidance on face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote in question happened a week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance noting that “fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”At the time, face coverings were still required on the floor, a mandate put in place by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in June 2020. Even after the updated CDC guidance in May, Dr. Brian Monahan, Congress’ attending physician, wrote that “mask requirement and other guidelines remain unchanged until all Members and floor staff are fully vaccinated.”“I voted on the House floor without wearing my mask,” Norman wrote. “I did so because I was following the direction of our nation’s top scientists that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear a mask.”In her appeal, Greene called the fine “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not consistent with law or with principles of fairness.”A handful of Republican lawmakers were fined. Greene, Massie and Norman, along with Rep. Mary E. Miller of Illinois, took a maskless selfie on the House floor.On June 11, the requirement was lifted, with Monahan writing that fully vaccinated members, staff and visitors to the chamber could shed their masks. Norman said in his appeal that he has been fully vaccinated since February. Both Greene and Massie have said they have not taken the vaccine.———Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Britney Spears' conservatorship case sparks legislative push

Britney Spears' conservatorship case sparks legislative push

Prompted by Britney Spears conservatorship fight, a bipartisan legislative effort has emerged to reform the processBy MEG KINNARD Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 4:55 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Prompted by Britney Spears’ conservatorship fight, a bipartisan legislative effort has emerged to reform the process created to protect the rights of more than 1 million people across the United States under the protective arrangements.On Tuesday, Reps. Charlie Crist and Nancy Mace unveiled “The Free Britney Act,” designed to give more options to people placed under conservatorships. Those include the ability to talk about their situations with caseworkers — over any objections from their conservators — and petition a court to replace their conservators without having to “prove wrongdoing or malfeasance.”“This is just a commonsense approach to doing what is right, to making sure that rights are balanced,” Crist, a Florida Democrat, said during a virtual news conference on Tuesday.Both Mace, a Republican from South Carolina, and Crist said it was Spears’ passionate plea last month that a judge end the conservatorship that controls her life and money that spurred their proposal.“What she had was an opportunity to do is bring to light, to shine a light, on those abuses,” Mace said. “Her situation is a nightmare, and if it can happen to Britney Spears, it can happen to anyone in this country.”Speaking in open court, Spears condemned her father and others who control the conservatorship, put in place as Spears underwent a mental health crisis in 2008. Spears said that the arrangement has compelled her to use birth control and take other medications against her will, and prevented her from getting married or having another child.Spears’ father and his attorneys have emphasized that she and her fortune, which court records put at more than $50 million, remain vulnerable to fraud and manipulation. Under current law, the burden is on Spears to prove she is competent before the case could end.Mace and Crist said they expected more bipartisan support for the measure, which would also provide at least $260 million in grant funds for states to hire caseworkers or conservators.The #FreeBritney movement has already crossed party lines.“Everyone deserves control over their own body. Period,” U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, tweeted last month following Spears’ testimony.Some House Republicans have invited Spears to testify before Congress. The political arm of the House Republican caucus sent texts that described Ms. Spears as “a victim of toxic gov’t overreach & censorship.”Earlier this month, Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, made a brief appearance addressing the Spears supporters outside the downtown Los Angels courthouse, at one point shouting “Free Britney!”———Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Judge OKs distribution for $192M nuclear project settlement

Judge OKs distribution for $192M nuclear project settlement

Investors who lost fortunes in the failure of a multi billion-dollar nuclear reactor construction deal in South Carolina will soon begin to see their portions of a $192 million settlementBy MEG KINNARD Associated PressJuly 19, 2021, 8:13 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — Investors who lost fortunes in the failure of a multi billion-dollar nuclear reactor construction deal in South Carolina will soon begin to see their portions of a $192 million settlement, under a recently approved distribution.Last week, a federal judge signed off on a plan to disperse the funds among former shareholders in SCANA Corp., the former parent company of South Carolina Electric & Gas. The settlement itself was the largest securities class action recovery obtained in South Carolina when a judge approved it last year, according to attorneys for the investors.The utility company became embroiled in controversy after announcing in summer 2017 that it was shuttering a nuclear reactor construction project at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Columbia, following the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse.Up to that point, SCANA and state-owned utility Santee Cooper, a minority partner in the project, had spent nearly $10 billion on it. The failure cost ratepayers and investors billions and left nearly 6,000 people jobless.The abandonment spawned multiple lawsuits, some by ratepayers claiming company executives knew the project was doomed and misled consumers as well as regulators as they petitioned for a series of rate increases. State and federal authorities launched investigations, which have led to guilty pleas from two top-level SCANA executives.More than 737,000 SCE&G customers had already paid more than $2 billion toward the project, which never generated any power. Customers did ultimately see retroactive credits applied to bills after lawmakers passed a temporary rate cut that knocked about $25 a month off the average residential customer’s bill.SCANA shareholders accused the company of assuring them the project was above board, even as costs and delays spiraled out of control. This, investors alleged, caused SCANA stock to be traded at artificially inflated prices, numbers that plummeted once the project was mothballed. In July 2016, SCANA stock was trading at $76.12 a share but dropped more than 50% after news of the project’s failure, and the investigations surrounding it, became public, according to the investors’ attorneys.The settlement includes $160 million in cash, with the remaining $32.5 million covered by cash or stock in Dominion Energy. The Virginia-based company took over SCANA in 2019, paying more than $6.8 billion to buy out the company’s stock and assuming its consolidated net debts of $6.6 billion.Claimants will be required to cash their checks within 120 days or forfeit the award, according to the order.“We are pleased that the court has approved the settlement distribution plan, and look forward to the distribution of the settlement funds to eligible class members according to the plan,” said Marlon Kimpson, a state senator and attorney representing the investors.———Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

20 states support South Carolina in abortion lawsuit

20 states support South Carolina in abortion lawsuit

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Twenty states are supporting South Carolina’s defense of a new abortion law, arguing in an amicus brief that a federal judge was wrong to pause the entire measure instead of just the provision facing a court challenge.In a filing Tuesday with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the states, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued that U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis overstepped her authority when she put the entire abortion law on hold, rather than just the portion being challenged.The judge’s ruling, Marshall wrote, “treads on South Carolina’s sovereign ability to decide for itself the purposes of its legislation” and “aggrandizes the judicial power by treating the court’s injunction of the challenged provision as erasing it entirely so the whole Act collapses.”The arguments mirror those of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican who signed the measure into law earlier this year. The state’s attorneys wrote in an appellate filing earlier this month that Lewis’ decision to halt the entire measure during litigation “oversteps the bounds of federal judicial power.”McMaster’s brief asked the appellate judges to lift a lower court’s injunction on the “ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act.”The law requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If cardiac activity is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or the mother’s life was in danger.Planned Parenthood attorneys sued immediately, and the entire law has been blocked from taking effect during the lawsuit.The states filing in support of South Carolina all “have in place laws similar to the South Carolina laws the district court enjoined,” Marshall wrote.In halting the whole law, Lewis presumed that the sole purpose of other provisions in the law — like requiring an ultrasound to be performed before an abortion — “was to ban abortions of unborn children with heartbeats,” Marshall wrote.That, he continued, “would be news not only to the South Carolina General Assembly, but to many other state legislatures that have enacted similar ultrasound requirements without South Carolina’s additional regulation.”The states that signed onto the amicus brief are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. All but three have Republican governors.Several other groups have submitted filings in support of South Carolina, including the Southern Baptist Convention and an anti-abortion group of obstetricians and gynecologists.Attorneys for Planned Parenthood have not responded in court.Actions by an even higher court could also dictate outcomes in this case. On Tuesday, Lewis ruled she would stay further motions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take a case from Mississippi — which wants to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The court will likely hear that case in the fall, with a decision likely in 2022.About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision supporting abortion rights. Federal law supersedes state law.More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Opponents have argued many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks, especially if they are not trying to conceive. And, they argue, with such an early deadline, the law gives women little time to consider whether to have an abortion.———Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

South Carolina gov: Abortion order 'oversteps' federal power

South Carolina gov: Abortion order 'oversteps' federal power

South Carolina’s governor has appealed the pause of a new abortion lawBy MEG KINNARD Associated PressJuly 7, 2021, 8:06 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s governor wants a new abortion law to take effect, arguing Wednesday that a judge’s decision to put the whole measure — and not just the parts being challenged in court — on hold during a lawsuit “oversteps the bounds of federal judicial power.”Gov. Henry McMaster’s brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asks appellate judges to lift a lower court’s injunction on the “ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act. ” The Republican signed the measure into law earlier this year.The law requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If cardiac activity is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or the mother’s life was in danger.Planned Parenthood attorneys sued immediately, and the entire law has been blocked from going into effect during the litigation. In his brief, attorneys for McMaster argued that decision represents “overreaching federal power to interfere with state law.”“This Court should not countenance such a judicial intrusion upon South Carolina’s legitimate sovereign interests in the form of an unnecessary nullification of state law,” attorneys for the state wrote. They argued that a section such as the requirement that an ultrasound be performed is “a standalone provision that survives any invalidation of another provision.”McMaster, along with other defendants including state Attorney General Alan Wilson, also argue that the groups that sued don’t have proper standing to challenge the law.“The right to life is the most precious of rights and the most fragile,” McMaster said in a statement Wednesday. “We must protect life at every opportunity, regardless of cost or inconvenience.”Attorneys for Planned Parenthood have not responded in court.Actions by an even higher court could also dictate outcomes in this case. The lower court judge has said she’s inclined to stay pending motions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take a case from Mississippi — which wants to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The court will likely hear that case in the fall, with a decision likely in the spring of 2022.About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision supporting abortion rights. Federal law supersedes state law.More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Opponents have argued many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks, especially if they are not trying to conceive. And, they argue, with such an early deadline, the law gives women little time to consider whether to have an abortion.———Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Proposal would ban mink farming to stem coronavirus mutation

Proposal would ban mink farming to stem coronavirus mutation

A bipartisan proposal in the U.S. House would ban the farming of mink fur in the United States in an effort to stem possible mutations of the coronavirusBy MEG KINNARD Associated PressJuly 2, 2021, 9:16 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCOLUMBIA, S.C. — A bipartisan proposal in the U.S. House would ban the farming of mink fur in the United States in an effort to stem possible mutations of the coronavirus, something researchers have said can be accelerated when the virus spreads among animals.The bill introduced this week is an effort from Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C. It would prohibit the import, export, transport, sale or purchase of mink in the United States.Researchers have said that spread of COVID-19 among animals could speed up the number of mutations in the virus before it potentially jumps back to people.Last year, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control issued new guidance to curb the spread of the coronavirus between minks and humans. The agency warned that when COVID-19 starts spreading on a mink farm, the large numbers of animal infections means “the virus can accumulate mutations more quickly in minks and spread back into the human population.”Denmark reported last year that 12 people had been sickened by a variant of the coronavirus that had distinct genetic changes also seen in mink.“What we want to do is ban the inhumane practice of farming mink for fur,” Mace said Friday during an interview with The Associated Press. “At the same time, it’s also a public health crisis, so it helps fix both of those situations.”“Knowing that there are variants, and being someone who cares about the humane treatment of animals, this is sort of a win-win for folks,” she added. “And I believe that you’ll see Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle work on this together.”According to Fur Commission USA, a nonprofit representing U.S. mink farmers, there are approximately 275 mink farms in 23 states across the United States, producing about 3 million pelts per year. That amounts to an annual value of more than $300 million, according to the commission.There have been several mink-related coronavirus cases in the U.S. In December, a mink caught outside an Oregon farm tested positive for low-levels of the coronavirus. State officials said they believed the animal had escaped from a small farm already under quarantine because of a coronavirus outbreak among mink and humans.According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mink on a Michigan farm “and a small number of people” were infected with a coronavirus “that contained mink-related mutations,” something officials said suggested that mink-to-human spread may have occurred.While mink-to-human spread is possible, CDC officials said “there is no evidence that mink are playing a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to people.”———Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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