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Judge appoints former justice as trustee over Simon estate

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A Hamilton County judge has ordered Bren Simon removed as personal representative and interim trustee over her late husband's estate, replacing her with a retired justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge William J. Hughes represents a turning point in an ugly family squabble over Melvin Simon's more than $2 billion fortune. It's a big victory for Deborah Simon, one of Melvin's children from a previous marriage, who had argued Bren is unfit to serve as trustee.

"The record herein is replete with examples of conduct by Bren Simon justifying her removal in both capacities," Judge Hughes wrote in the order entered Dec. 15.

The judge cited Bren's decision to distribute $13 million from the estate to herself without notifying other trust beneficiaries, a move she later tried to recast as a loan, albeit one without an interest rate or repayment schedule. Among Bren's other questionable decisions: Paying her attorneys more than $3 million from the estate without the court's approval, and moving to convert more than $600 million ownership units in Simon Property Group Inc. without appropriate professional advice, the judge wrote.

Judge Hughes appointed former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore R. Boehm, who retired earlier this year and is now a senior judge, to replace Bren as both trustee and Melvin's personal representative. The judge chose an outsider because "successor personal representatives" noted in Melvin's will, including his son and Simon Property Group CEO David Simon, are either named parties or witnesses in the pending will contest.

Judge Hughes ordered Bren to immediately deliver all records pertaining to the estate to Judge Boehm and to provide a full accounting of her activities as interim trustee within 60 days.

Deborah's legal team argued in July that Bren is unfit to serve as trustee, saying that she is hostile toward her stepchildren and already had bungled several important decisions.

They played snippets of videotaped testimony from Bren, taken in March, in which she describes Deborah and her siblings Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the chairman and CEO of Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, as spoiled, vicious, and hurtful. In e-mails entered into the court record, Bren calls Deborah "bin Laden" and describes the actions of David as "terrorism."

Attorneys for Bren argued she served capably as executor and trustee of the estate of her late husband, pointing to a series of moves she has signed off on that include the transfer of her husband's stake in the Indiana Pacers and moves to appraise the value of a vast array of holdings.

Bren's attorneys are trying to remove Judge Hughes from the case, after taking issue in November with the judge’s choice of personal counsel to represent him in front of a state judicial commission. Hughes hired two attorneys with Bingham McHale after he was charged with driving while intoxicated in North Carolina in October. A different attorney at the same firm represents Simon Property Group.

Judge Hughes replaced the Bingham McHale attorneys on Nov. 22, three days after Bren’s attorneys objected and asked for a stay in the case. Judge Hughes said he has “no bias” for any party or attorney in the case, but Bren’s attorneys were not convinced. The judge on Wednesday certified the appeal, fast-tracking a review by another judge.

Deborah claims Bren coerced Melvin to make changes to his estate plan in February 2009, seven months before he died at age 82. Deborah contends Melvin was suffering from dementia and didn’t understand what he was doing when he signed off on the plan, which boosted the share of his fortune going directly to Bren from one-third to one-half. The changes also wiped out a portion that was to go to Deborah and her two siblings from Simon’s first marriage—Cynthia and David.

Bren has claimed in court filings that the changes to the will reflected Melvin’s desire to compensate her for a drop in the company’s stock price and a reduction in the cash dividend.
 

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  1. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  2. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  3. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  4. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  5. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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