SC Johnson lawyer says Buske prenup proves collusion

By Steve Korris | Dec 23, 2009

Tom and Sara Buske concealed a premarital agreement from Madison County divorce court to keep household product maker S.C. Johnson from collecting a judgment against Tom Buske, according to S.C. Johnson lawyer Tom Keefe of Belleville.

In a letter to Associate Judge Tom Chapman, Keefe wrote that the premarital agreement proves collusion between the Buskes.

He asked Chapman to imagine a conversation with Tom telling Sara she can have half of everything they keep from S.C. Johnson.

"Why did Sara Buske sign a verified pleading declaring that 'Sara Buske and Thomas Buske have not previously executed any agreements relative to the issues raised herein,' when that is precisely what they executed?" Keefe wrote.

He asked why Tom didn't deny the allegation when he knew it wasn't true.

He asked what conceivable reason Tom would have for not asserting the agreement if not to defraud S.C. Johnson.

"Would Sara Buske have a motive to participate in this fraud, going so far as to swear under oath something she knew to be untrue?" Keefe wrote.

"Is Thomas Buske, who has already been found by a civil jury to be a thief, and faces similar prospects from a criminal jury, capable of such chicanery?"

Keefe also wondered why Tom's lawyers, Vickie Cochran and Richard Meives, didn't deny the absence of the agreement.

Their firm drafted the agreement, Keefe wrote.

Keefe sent the letter to Chapman on Oct. 9.

Chapman kept it from the public for more than two months by holding the entire case file in his chambers.

He returned the file to the circuit clerk's office on Dec. 14.

Last year, jurors in Wisconsin held Tom Buske liable on civil claims that his trucking companies fraudulently inflated their charges.

Jurors awarded about $200 million in damages.

Sara Buske then petitioned for divorce in Madison County.

S.C. Johnson intervened and branded the divorce as a sham, claiming the Buskes sought to remove Tom's assets from S.C. Johnson's reach.

Last December, Associate Judge Duane Bailey ruled that S.C. Johnson could not enforce its judgment in Wisconsin or anywhere else.

Fifth District appeals judges in Mount Vernon reversed Bailey this June, ruling that no reasonable person could have ruled as he did.

Chief Judge Ann Callis reassigned the divorce to Chapman after transferring Bailey to juvenile court.

On Sept. 15, S.C. Johnson moved to produce a prenuptial agreement.

On Sept. 24, Cochran answered for Tom Buske that S.C. Johnson couldn't enforce an agreement if one ever existed.

She described the agreement as "hypothetical."

On Sept. 29, Chapman ordered production of the agreement.

On Oct. 5, Cochran sent a letter to Chapman protesting "scandalous
allegations" that might disrupt a scheduled settlement conference.

On Oct. 9, Keefe sent Chapman two letters.

In one he wrote, "Despite the Buskes' convenient denials, their
premarital agreement is valid and enforceable" under the premarital agreement act.

Under the act, he wrote, couples can amend or revoke agreements
only in writing.

"Both were independently represented by experienced counsel in
entering into the premarital agreement and no doubt could have properly revoked the agreement if that was actually intended," he wrote.

"Indeed, the firm representing Mr. Buske in this divorce is named in the premarital agreement and has represented him for years," he wrote.

He wrote that Tom seeks to modify the agreement "and substitute terms far more favorable to his wife."

He wrote that the court can't look on the divorce independently of Tom's fraud, S.C. Johnson's right to collect, and the Buskes' attempt to preserve assets.

"It is these very circumstances that bring Mr. Buske's decision not to enforce an otherwise advantageous premarital agreement within the purview of fraudulent transfer law," he wrote.

Keefe's second letter began, "My co-counsel have drafted a civilized response to Ms. Cochran's letter which I enclose."

"Unfortunately, I am incapable of such civility," Keefe wrote.

"Scandalous allegations should be the least of all worries for every lawyer and every party who knew of the existence of this premarital agreement and fraudulently concealed it from the court and other parties," he wrote.

He asked why Cochran and Meives continued to conceal an agreement
that would inure to the benefit of their client.

He wrote that perhaps Cochran could explain why she characterized it as hypothetical.

"Why in the name of God have all of these lawyers spent hours and hours of the court's time, and S.C. Johnson's money to pay their fees, arguing there was no collusion when this agreement proves there was just that?"

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