LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Ray Charles Foundation seeks as much as $3.5 million from seven of the late singer's 12 children, whom the foundation claims, in Federal Court, were unhappy with their inheritance and wrongly terminated the transfer of copyrights to dozens of Charles' songs to the foundation.
Ray Charles's legacy and estate has been the subject of acrimony and litigation almost since the moment the singer died of liver disease in Beverly Hills, in June 2004. The string of lawsuits that followed revolved around the rights to - and proceeds generated by - recordings, photos and film images of the star.
According to the latest lawsuit, from lead plaintiff Raenee Robinson, Ray Charles gathered most of his 12 children -- including five of the seven defendants (two were then incarcerated) - in Los Angeles in December 2002 to tell them what he intended to provide for them upon his death.
"Specifically, Ray Charles advised his children that, expressly conditioned upon their agreement as indicated below, he intended to fund separate irrevocable trusts for the benefit of each of them in the amount of $500,000 (and he would take care of all the associated taxes) and that the children would have no further interests in his estate," the foundation says in its complaint.
"In express consideration for said trusts, each of the children who were over the age of eighteen at the time (including all of the seven defendants in the case) entered into a written agreement whereby each acknowledged and agreed that the said $500,000 irrevocable trust would be the entirety of their inheritance from their father, that each would receive no further inheritance from their father, and that each relinquished and waived any further claims to their father's estate," the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
According to the complaint and to media reports published after Charles' death, he intended to leave the bulk of his estate to charitable works to benefit the disabled and disadvantaged young people.
"In complete disregard of the confidence, trust and belief in his own children that their father reposed in them, by undertaking the actions described below in this complaint, defendants have reneged on and are in breach or other violation of this agreement," the foundation claims in its complaint.
It adds: "In March 2010, defendants, each of whom by that time had received the entirety of his or her $500,000 described above, served copyright termination or transfer notices on the publishers of approximately fifty-one individual musical compositions authored in whole or in part by Ray Charles. ... Should these improper notices be allowed to effectuate the termination of the underlying copyright transfers, the copyrights in these musical compositions, along with some of the income derived from the exploitation of these compositions in the United States, would be recaptured by ray Charles's adult children on a staggered basis beginning on April 1, 2012, and continuing until September 28, 2019. This result is contrary to copyright law, as well as being a breach of defendants' said agreements with their father."
The foundation, a nonprofit, claims: "The self-serving attempts on the part of the defendants to deprive the foundation of its said intellectual property and contract rights not only is contrary to the express wishes of their father and in breach of the agreement they signs and promises that they made, but contrary to the best interests of those innocent parties who would be benefited by the grants made by the foundation."
Named as defendants are Raenee Robinson, Ray Charles Jr., Sheila Robinson, David Robinson, Robert F. Robinson, Reatha Butler, and Robyn Moffett.
In addition to monetary relief, the foundation seeks declaratory and injunctive relief on claims of breach of contract and breach of faith and fair dealing.
It is represented by Yakub Hazzard, with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.