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Judge to order mediation in Simon estate dispute

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A Hamilton County judge plans to order mediation in a series of disputes surrounding the estate of the late mall billionaire Melvin Simon.

Superior Court Judge William J. Hughes on Tuesday told attorneys for widow Bren Simon, stepdaughter Deborah Simon and Simon Property Group Inc. that he plans to enter an order for mediation on Friday.

The parties will have 15 days to either agree on a mediator or file a motion objecting to the order. Hughes encouraged the attorneys to look nationwide if necessary to find the best possible mediator, without any conflicts.

Deborah Simon is challenging her father’s will in court, saying Melvin 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—estimated to be worth $2 billion—while the broader case is pending.

Hughes has not yet ruled on the trustee issue, but on July 30 he banned distributions from the estate without the court's approval.

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.
 
On Tuesday, the judge said he expects all the parties—Bren, Deborah and representatives of the company, with the board’s authority—and their attorneys to attend mediation talks.

Attorneys for both sides asked the judge to clarify whether the mediation order applied only to the question of whether Simon Property must convert part of its co-founder’s ownership stake into common shares.

He shot back that it’s time to discuss “all of it, every bit of it … It’s clear we need to mediate now.”

“You don’t have to resolve everything or agree to anything,” he said, but the parties need to sit across the table from each other and try to work things out.

Hughes did not rule Tuesday on Bren Simon’s motion to dismiss the will contest, taking the matter under advisement.

The courtroom battle has provided a public glimpse into a long-simmering feud among members of one of the city's wealthiest and most prominent families.

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