Buske hearing gets heated, Chapman rules for S.C. Johnson

Amelia Flood Sep. 25, 2009, 7:21am

Madison County Associate Judge Thomas Chapman denied a motion to show cause in favor of S.C. Johnson during a heated hearing in the divorce case of Sara and Thomas Buske on Friday.

Chapman, however, did not rule on attorneys' fees and on an enjoinment order.

S.C. Johnson and Sons Inc. is intervening in the Edwardsville couple's divorce claiming it is a fraud designed to hide monies the company is owed.

Thomas Buske faces federal charges in Wisconsin for allegedly defrauding S.C. Johnson of millions using inflated invoices from his trucking concerns. In a related matter, a Wisconsin court entered a $203.8 million civil judgment against Thomas Buske in 2008.

Sara Buske filed for divorce eight days after the Wisconsin civil judgment was entered.

The three sides have been at odds over S.C. Johnson's role in the divorce proceedings and what, if anything, the company can collect.

The previous presiding judge in the case, Madison County Associate Judge Duane Bailey, had signed an order enjoining the Racine, Wisc.-based company from collecting on the Wisconsin judgment in all states including Illinois. The Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon threw out the order as to all states but Illinois and S.C. Johnson has been seeking to completely vacate the order.

Attorneys for the Buskes argued that a Wisconsin order compelling collection on the $203.8 million could not be enforced in Illinois because the appeals court had not thrown out the part of Bailey's order that enjoined collection in the state.

Chapman questioned both sides exhaustively on the issues, particularly the collection enjoinment. He interrupted arguments by Thomas Buske's attorneys at one point.

"The activity is in another state," he said.

Thomas Buske's attorneys continued the argument, saying the collection efforts in Wisconsin would violate the Uniform Enforcement of Judgments Act because the Wisconsin court ordered an Illinois citizen, Thomas Buske, to bring assets from Illinois into the bordering state.

S.C. Johnson attorney Thomas Keefe Jr. replied that the appellate court in overturning Bailey's order had focused on where the collection activity is, not where the assets are.

Andrew Velloff, another S.C. Johnson attorney, likened the situation to when a divorcing party's car is repossessed. The court could not stop that any more than it could act against S.C. Johnson in the collection matter, he said.

Chapman denied the motion to show cause in favor of S.C. Johnson and moved on to heated arguments about vacating the Bailey order from December 2008.

"Bailey tied our hands and our feet," Keefe told Chapman, arguing for the order's vacation.

Howard Feldman, Sara Buske's attorney, told the court he was concerned about the "slippery slope," of holding a wife in a divorce liable for a debt her husband may have incurred without her knowledge.

Some questions arose as to S.C. Johnson's standing in the case that Chapman said had been settled in earlier hearings.

Attorneys for both Buskes argued that Sara Buske's interest in the case outweighed S.C. Johnson's potential lien on the marital estate.

Chapman ordered all parties to brief him on the issue within five days before hearing arguments on attorneys' fees for Feldman, Thomas Buske's attorney Vicki Cochran and attorney Christopher Byron who has been working on Thomas Buske's behalf.

Representatives from the parties withdrew into Chapman's chambers after the hearing to set a date for the next.

The two children of the marriage of Thomas and Sara Buske are represented by Mark Goldenberg. Goldenberg also represents Thomas Buske's daughter from a previous marriage in a different court action.

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