A Hamilton County judge handling the Melvin Simon estate battle has set confidentiality rules on financial and personal information that are less restrictive than what his widow, Bren Simon, had been seeking.
Attorneys for Bren had asked at a March 10 hearing that information related to household expenses, health and other personal matters be disclosed to no one beyond the plaintiff in the will contest—Melvin’s daughter Deborah—and her attorneys, and in some cases only her attorneys.
In a newly filed order, Judge William J. Hughes permitted dissemination to others who might have a financial interest in the estate, so long as they sign agreements to keep the information confidential. That includes Deborah's two siblings from Melvin’s first marriage, Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the CEO of Simon Property Group.
Attorneys for Deborah had argued for broad disclosure. But attorneys for Bren had bristled, saying the siblings were never entitled to see Melvin 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," David Beehler, an attorney for Bren, said at the hearing.
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 her stepmother, Bren, from one-third to one-half.
The changes also wiped out a portion that was to go to Deborah and her siblings.
Bren, 66, who married Melvin in 1972, contends the changes fully reflected Melvin’s wishes.
The protective order Hughes issued Tuesday likely won’t put all disclosure disputes to rest. Much of the information deemed confidential may be central to issues that surface during court hearings or at trial. Hughes ordered the parties to cooperate on ground rules for disclosing such information in open court, an apparent effort to limit the need for him to intervene.
Melvin Simon was one of Indiana’s richest men. Forbes magazine in March 2009 estimated his net worth at $1.3 billion. Shares of Simon Property, his principal holding, have zoomed higher since, perhaps pushing the value of his fortune past $2 billion.