Judge dismisses S.C. Johnson collusion complaint in Buske divorce

Amelia Flood Jun. 12, 2009, 7:13am


The maker of common household items like Windex and Pledge furniture polish has no standing to argue Thomas and Sara Buske filed a "sham divorce."

The court will however, use the essence of the allegations made by the company to determine whether or not the divorce has grounds to go through at a hearing scheduled June 19.

S.C. Johnson had moved intervene in the divorce claiming it was a show by the Edwardsville couple to hide millions in assets the Racine, Wisc. company is owed.

Madison County Associate Judge Duane Bailey is presiding.

Bailey granted an oral motion raised by Thomas Buske's attorney, Vicki Cochran, to dismiss S.C. Johnson's verified amended complaint alleging collusion. Bailey ruled the company did not have the standing to make the argument although he said he would use parts of the complaint in his determination of the validity of the divorce grounds.

Bailey said he had reviewed case law going back to 1916.

Sara Buske filed to end her 15 year marriage to Thomas Buske eight days after a Wisconsin court rendered a $203.8 million judgment against him.

Arguments for and against S.C. Johnson's standing in the case were heard Friday beginning at 10:30 a.m.

S.C. Johnson attorney Andrew Velloff argued that the company had a right to put forth its collusion theory based on the couple's actions and the judgment rendered against Thomas Buske in Wisconsin. The company's verified amended complaint was answered by both Buskes June 11.

"There are 203.8 million reasons why S.C. Johnson has a legitimate interest in this case," Velloff said. "There has never been any illusion about why S.C. Johnson got into this case."

Velloff argued conversations between Sara and Thomas Buske's attorneys showed the couple was not at odds, a charge both attorneys denied.

Thomas Buske faces multiple counts of fraud and other charges in a Wisconsin criminal court. He is charged with defrauding S.C. Johnson of millions using inflated invoices from his trucking concerns.

S.C. Johnson has another suit pending in federal court in East St. Louis against both Buskes over its attempts to collect monies it is owed.

Lawyers for the household cleaner maker had argued that multiple actions by both Buskes demonstrated that divorce was collusive and in bad faith.

S.C. Johnson pointed to trips to Los Angeles and Las Vegas the Buskes took just prior to and shortly after the divorce filing in which they stayed in the same hotel room to start. They cited the fact that the couple had continued to live together throughout the proceedings. Thomas Buske had still been living at the couple's $1.7 million Edwardsville home as of a May 15 hearing.

A key point of contention for S.C. Johnson was the amount of monthly maintenance Sara Buske requested from her husband.

According to current court records, Thomas Buske makes $180,000 a year. His estranged wife had asked for $22,000 a month to cover expenses such as $3,000 for clothing and over $1,000 in laundry services.

Had that amount been granted by the court, it would have exceeded Thomas Buske's yearly salary.

S.C. Johnson argued it was proof of an attempt to hide monies from the company.

Bailey granted Sara Buske $10,000 a month in maintenance May 29.

Both Howard Feldman and Cochran, the attorneys for Sara and Thomas Buske, argued the collusion only relates to the grounds for a divorce and that the company did not have a right to argue for it. The two contended that their conversations were run of the mill activities undertaken in divorce cases.

Feldman excused the fact that Thomas Buske continued living with his family in light of a potentially long prison term he would serve if convicted.

"Shame on Sara Buske for wanting her children to have a relationship with their father," Feldman said. He claimed S.C. Johnson was attempting to "villify" his client in the proceedings.

"They have drug her through the mud as best they could," Feldman said.

Cochran scoffed at S.C. Johnson's claim the couple's apparent lack of hostility meant the divorce was cooked up by both.

"We're not sufficiently nasty to each other," Cochran said.

S.C. Johnson will still be a party to the case should the divorce go through. It will be able to seek the monies it is owed from the Wisconsin judgment upon the division of the marital assets.

A third party intervention by Thomas Buske's adult daughter from a previous marriage, Taylor Buske, was denied by Bailey at the beginning of the hearing. Taylor Buske had wished to make a claim against the marital estate for her college expenses. Bailey suggested that the action needed to take place in the county where Buske's previous marriage had been dissolved.

Sara Buske is represented by Howard Feldman and others. Thomas Buske is represented in the divorce by Vicki Cochran. S.C. Johnson is represented by Thomas Q. Keefe Jr., Andrew Velloff and Brad Pierce.

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