Simon Property Group and Hamilton County and Lawsuits and Regional News and Mel Simon and Law and Real Estate & Retail

Lawyers in Simon estate case fight over what should be public

March 10, 2010

Attorneys for Melvin Simon’s daughter Deborah, who’s seeking to throw out the final version of the late billionaire’s estate plan, argued in court Wednesday for public disclosure of his and wife Bren’s financial and spending records.

During a 90-minute session before Hamilton Superior Court Judge William J. Hughes, attorneys for Bren Simon argued for limited disclosure of the information, including Bren’s spending practices, calling it highly personal.

Barry Simon, an attorney for Deborah who is not related to the family, suggested the public disclosure might favor his client, who’s seeking to have her stepmother, Bren, removed as trustee in charge of handling Melvin’s fortune.

“How [Bren] handled the finances or treated Mel Simon might be embarrassing to her,” but should be disclosed, Barry Simon said during the first major hearing in the estate battle.

Deborah is asking the court to throw out changes to Melvin’s estate plan executed in February 2009, seven months before he died at age 82. She contends he was suffering from dementia and didn't understand what he was doing when he signed off on the plan, boosting 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 his two other children from his first marriage—Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the chairman and CEO of Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group.

Bren, 66, who married Melvin in 1972, contends the changes fully reflected Melvin’s wishes.

David and Cynthia are not plaintiffs in the litigation. But attorneys for Deborah acknowledged they’re also representing the other two siblings, and expect both to testify at trial. Barry Simon asked the judge to allow Deborah's legal team to disclose documents the court determines should be sealed to David and Cynthia.

An attorney for Bren Simon, David Beehler, bristled at the suggestion, saying the siblings were never entitled to see Mel and Bren's financial information, even when they were living together years ago.

"If their interest is that strong and heartfelt, they should be willing to join as parties," Beehler said.

Attorneys for the two sides kept Wednesday’s hearing civil. But they’ve been sparring over nearly every aspect of the litigation, and during the session an attorney for Deborah cast doubt on whether the two sides would be ready for trial in January 2011, as is currently scheduled.

Melvin Simon was co-founder of Simon Property Group and one of Indiana’s richest men. The value of his principal investment, Simon Property shares, has zoomed higher over the past year, perhaps swelling his fortune to $2 billion.

Hughes said this already has been an extraordinary case. The judge said it’s difficult to keep case files on his desk for more than five minutes because media and other outside parties keep requesting them. He said litigation related to the estate already has increased the workload of his court by one-third.

He is expected to rule soon on how to handle confidential documents. Attorneys for Deborah acknowledge some information, such as bank account numbers, should be kept from public view. But they opposed wholesale sealing of documents containing financial information.

 

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