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Sparks fly at Simon estate hearing

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Details of years of squabbling between family members of shopping mall magnate Mel Simon have begun to emerge in a court battle over the late billionaire's estate.

Attorneys for Mel's widow Bren and Mel's children from a previous marriage took swipes at each other in opening arguments at a Thursday hearing in Hamilton County to determine whether Bren should remain as the estate's trustee. The hearing, the latest step in a bitter battle over a fortune estimated to be worth about $2 billion, was expected to last all day.

An attorney for Bren said his client, who was married to Mel for 37 years, believed a long-simmering dispute was coming to an end after Mel died on Sept. 16, 2009.

She had withdrawn as a candidate for a U.S. Ambassador position to care for Mel after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that June, and opened her Asherwood estate to Deborah Simon and her siblings so they could be with their father in his final days.

"It appeared that peace had returned to the family," said Michael Ciresi, a partner in Minneapolis-based Robbins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi LLP.

Not for long.

In November, Bren received a letter from an attorney representing Deborah and her siblings Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the chairman and CEO of Simon Property Group, asking her to step down as trustee.

Deborah's attorney, Barry Simon, who is not related to the family, argued Thursday that Bren is not qualified or capable of managing the estate. He pointed to a secret recording she allegedly made of trust advisers, her taking of $13 million in an unauthorized advance from the trust, and her history of harsh interactions with Mel's children.

He quoted from several e-mails, including one in which Bren allegedly said of Deborah, Cynthia and David, "I hope they rot in hell."

Ciresi said Bren regrets her harsh words, but that harsh words were said on both sides, and the animosity has not colored Bren's approach to her role as trustee.

He said Bren was holding several e-mails, too, but hopes not to introduce them in court.

"I don't think Mel Simon would have liked to see these e-mails put in the public record," Ciresi said.

Deborah contends her father was suffering from dementia and didn’t understand what he was doing when he revised his estate 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 her siblings from Melvin’s earlier marriage and left charitable gifts stipulated in prior versions to Bren’s discretion.

Bren, who married Mel in 1972, contends the changes fully reflected his wishes.

This story will be updated on ibj.com.

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  • Poor Simon Kids
    My heart goes out to the Simon children. They had planned on daddy continuing to support their arrogant lives. Some times things don't work out the way we had thought they would. Bren was married to this man for 37 yrs not 5 yrs. Who was always by his side? Not his kids...,, greed will come around to hurt you. His kids look like greedy, spoiled, ungrateful scoundrels.
  • Don't be so quick to judge...
    This is a battle of the greeds! The Simon children are willing to walk over anyone and anything in their way for $$! Bren clearly has learned this tactic from them. David has no idea how to treat others with respect or compassion. He runs Simon Property Group by placing fear in the employee instead of earning respect. SPG has bought their way out of many employment lawsuits under the table and has a HR staff that are bascially puppets of David. Neither side is worthy of a win and should be forced to pay the judge and court staff from their own pockets as the taxpayers pay enough for them!!
    • TAXPAYERS HELP NEEDED
      CAN INDY TAXPAYERS FORK OUT SOME CASH TO HELP BREN, SHE NEEDS MONEY TO KEEP HER UTILITIES AND SERVENTS PAID
    • Satire DOES Rock
      I agree. Satire DOES rock. I guess I'm lashing out at the ridiculous comments over and over and over that are just hurtful or provoking that are the written equivalent of "that guy" who loves the sound of his own voice.

      I think comments should offer insight into the story or provide a genuine reaction, NOT be a lowest common denominator sleaze fest.

      Of course, I do not publish IBJ nor is my opinion more important than anyone else's so I will now relax as suggested.
    • Satire Rocks
      Joshua-Hey buddy relax, it's called satire. Most IBJ readers get it..we are 99% certain that the Mayor didn't write those comments.
      • Names
        >

        Like this?
      • Josh
        How do you know that wasn't really Mayor Ballard?

        PS Get the stick out of your.....
      • Comment Trolls
        If you're going to post comments, you should post as yourself and not hide behind a moniker that misrepresents the views of a public official. IBJ is the place where serious people read and debate the issues. Go be a troll somewhere else, "Lame Coward Calling Himself Mayor Ballard."
        • What Can I Do To Help?
          Maybe if I gave each of the kids $10MM a year to help them cover expenses? Afterall, that's what Unkie Herb got.

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