Legal Issues and Hamilton County and Simon Property Group and Mel Simon and Law and Real Estate & Retail

Simon widow's attorneys want judge to step down

November 30, 2010
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Attorneys for Bren Simon turned their ire toward a Hamilton County judge on Tuesday, asking him to recuse himself from a legal battle over real estate magnate Melvin Simon's $2 billion estate.

They took issue with Judge William J. Hughes' choice of personal counsel to represent him in front of a state judicial commission. The judge hired two attorneys with Bingham McHale after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated in North Carolina in October.

Other attorneys at the Indianapolis-based firm represent Simon Property Group Inc. in the contentious estate dispute.

Hughes said in open court Tuesday that he jettisoned the Bingham McHale attorneys—Kevin McGoff and James Bell—on Nov. 22, three days after Bren's attorneys objected and asked for a stay in the case.

Hughes said he has "no bias" for any party or attorney in the case.

Attorneys for Bren, Melvin's widow, were not convinced.

"I am seeking fair and impartial judgment on behalf of my client," attorney Michael Ciresi said in a terse exchange with the judge.

Hughes, who was vacationing when he was arrested Oct. 27, said he was not under the influence when he amended an order in the Simon case earlier that same day.

In court on Tuesday, Hughes turned down a request to put off hearings on several procedural matters, but the judge said he would not immediately rule on the items under discussion.

Melvin’s daughter Deborah Simon is challenging the will in court, saying her father was coerced into approving a new estate plan that dramatically increased the amount of his fortune going to Bren. She also wants her stepmother removed as trustee of the estate while the broader case is pending.

Simon Property Group, meanwhile, joined the dispute to determine whether it must honor Bren Simon’s request to convert $500 million of her late husband's ownership stake in the publicly traded company into common shares or cash.

Hughes said he will cooperate if Bren's attorneys follow legal protocol in appealing to a higher court to have him removed from the case. But he refused to allow verbal arguments on the issue in open court.

"I'm not turning this into a circus for anyone's benefit" said Hughes, a 22-year veteran of the bench.

His initial court hearing in the DWI case is scheduled for January.

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