Judge Bailey to decide later on SC Johnson's standing in Buske divorce

Amelia Flood May 15, 2009, 8:52am


SC Johnson will have to wait to find out if it has standing in an Edwardsville divorce case that its attorneys argue is a sham attempt to hide money the company is owed.

In a hearing Friday before Madison County Associate Judge Duane Bailey, SC Johnson argued that the divorce of Thomas and Sara Buske should be dismissed as the result of collusion because neither party responded to the company's motion in the matter.

SC Johnson argues that the Buskes decided to divorce in order to keep money Thomas Buske fraudulently obtained from it.

Thomas Buske, who operates trucking firms, has been indicted in a Wisconsin federal court on charges he fraudulently obtained $27 million from the Racine-based company that manufactures household cleaning supplies.

He is currently released on his own recognizance. The trial is set for June. He has pled not guilty to all 23 counts against him.

Sara Buske filed for divorce eight days after a $ 203.8 million judgment was entered against her husband. Currently, the couple continues to live together.

Bailey would not allow the company to argue allegations of collusion Friday. Bailey said he will determine whether the company has standing to even act in the case at a hearing June 12 at 10 a.m.

The court moved onto the matter of temporary maintenance for Sara Buske and the couple's two children. Sara Buske has asked for roughly $20,000 a month to pay for food, utility bills, and other expenses. That amount exceeds the income Thomas Buske is paid, according to records. SC Johnson attorneys have argued that it is evidence that the divorce is a façade to shield assets.

At Friday's hearing, Thomas Buske took the Fifth Amendment on all questions except his name. He was excused from the stand.

Sara Buske fielded questions from SC Johnson attorney Andrew Velloff of Alton about the amounts she requested for bills. Among those are $3,000 a month for clothing, $1,500 a month for laundry and dry cleaning and other bills.

After hearing testimony on Sara Buske's lack of income and the bills, Bailey said that he would consider the request for maintenance in the next two weeks.

"Two people living apart don't live as well as one," Bailey told Sara Buske. He said she should expect some adjustment in the amount she would receive.

Sara Buske was granted $50,000 to pay her attorneys in the divorce proceedings and $50,000 to hire attorneys to represent her in a forthcoming matter.

Bailey denied Thomas Buske's motion for attorneys' fees, citing his refusal to testify.

"I have no idea under Illinois law that he can't pay his attorneys' fees," Bailey said.

The Buskes are also facing a federal lawsuit filed in East St. Louis in April. In the suit, SC Johnson accuses the couple of frustrating the collection efforts on the $203.8 million Wisconsin judgment.

After the temporary maintenance and attorneys' fees were dealt with, SC Johnson's attorneys Thomas Keefe Jr. of Belleville and Velloff were allowed to enter their offer of proof as to the alleged collusion.

Keefe read a list of facts he said would support SC Johnson's case after Bailey refused to take the company's complaint as the offer. The company cites numerous actions by the Buskes and their divorce attorneys, trips the couple took to Los Angeles and Las Vegas after the divorce began and other evidence.

Velloff asked the judge not to be a "pawn."

"I don't think the court should in any way sanction a lifestyle supported by, as found in the judgment, funds that were fraudulently obtained by Thomas Buske," Velloff said.

Depending on the outcome of the June 12 hearing, SC Johnson may then be able to argue its claims of collusion and for the dismissal of the divorce at another hearing set for June 19.

Thomas Buske is represented by Vickie Cochran of St. Louis in the divorce. Sara Buske is represented by Howard Feldman of Springfield.

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