Chapman hears arguments in Buske divorce funds dispute

By Amelia Flood | Feb 12, 2010

The three parties in a complicated Madison County divorce gathered Thursday to attempt to resolve the last of the disputes in the case.

Matters of loan repayments, maintenance payouts and attorneys' fees were all discussed at the nearly two-hour hearing before Madison County Associate Judge Thomas Chapman in the divorce of Sara and Thomas Buske.

Another hearing in the case, set for 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 19, will deal with the presentation of proposed orders.

These could include the dissolution judgment, trust documents for their children and/or the resolution of a move by an intervening company to dole out funds agreed to in December.

Intervenor S.C. Johnson and Son, Inc. filed a motion in late January asking the court to release funds from escrow at the Bank of Edwardsville in order to clear up settlement payments. It also seeks $15,000 as the outstanding portion of a loan Thomas Buske took from his former trucking company.

Meanwhile the company also disputes claims by Sara Buske, that she should be entitled to $10,000 a month in maintenance payments from the accounts on top of $325,000 given to her in the divorce's Dec. 1, 2009 settlement.

Sara Buske claims that she is still entitled to $10,000 a month in maintenance under an order signed by then-presiding judge, Madison County Associate Judge Duane Bailey. That order has not been vacated.

The company argued in is Feb. 9 response that the settlement should have ended the payments and that Sara Buske is not entitled to the $30,000 she had received since its signing.

Sara Buske has also been seeking to enter the dissolution order in the marriage. Her attorneys told the court Thursday that there had been no response to the proposed order since they began circulating in December 2009.

The Buskes filed responses to the company's motion to release the funds under the settlement. However, Thomas Buske's reply was not yet available in the court file, having been filed Feb. 10.

S.C. Johnson moved to intervene in the 2008 Edwardsville divorce, claiming it was a sham to shield money that Thomas Buske owes to the company.

Thomas Buske faces federal charges for defrauding the company of millions. He has pled not guilty.

The Racine, Wisc.-based manufacturer secured a judgment in Wisconsin civil court of over $203 million against Thomas Buske in 2008.

Sara Buske, Thomas's second wife of more than a decade, filed for divorce eight days later although the couple continued to live together at their Edwardsville home for nearly a year after.

Sara Buske claimed grounds of irreconcilable differences and mental cruelty. The divorce was allowed to proceed on the irreconcilable differences grounds.

The three parties reached a settlement in December that was approved by the court.

S.C. Johnson attorney Andrew Velloff argued that the fund payouts agreed to in the December settlement were clear.

"There is no question of a contract," Velloff said.

Arguments touched on multiple topics as did Chapman in his questioning of the parties.

Velloff argued that Sara Buske was not entitled to a Dec. 1 maintenance payment nor to payments made in January and February of this year under the terms of the settlement.

He pointed to language stating that she accepted $325,000 in lieu of "any further support."

According to Velloff's statements at the hearing, the Buske settlement divided funds in the following manner:

  • $325,000 to Sara Buske

  • $50,000 to Sara Buske's attorneys

  • $425,000 for Thomas Buske's three children

  • $50,000 for their attorneys

  • $200,000 in escrow for Thomas Buske's legal expenses, with any remainder of that going to S.C. Johnson.

    Dennis Orsey, representing Sara Buske, argued that temporary orders such as Bailey's allowing the $10,000 a month payments are ordinary.

    "They happen every day in this courthouse," Orsey argued. In his view, he said, they were entered in case matters dragged on in disputes so that a party could pay bills.

    Chapman questioned the amount of the payments and Bailey's intent as to the length of time the order would be in effect.

    Velloff continued to stick to his argument about the contract language precluding the temporary order payments. Sara Buske interrupted Velloff at one point but was told by Chapman not to speak out of turn.

    She disputed Velloff's interpretation of what she thought she would receive on settling.

    The parties also made arguments about how Thomas Buske's attorneys are to be paid in their representation in matters related to one of his former companies, the outstanding $15,000 loan and whether Thomas Buske could move for contribution on the matter of attorneys fees against his wife.

    Thomas Buske's attorney Richard Mieves argued that parts of the settlement were unclear.

    Chapman overruled several of his objections filed in his Feb. 10 response including the fourth one that related to the contribution issue.

    The parties took time toward the end of the hearing to discuss the trust for the Buske children, the co-parenting agreement between the Buskes and other matters.

    The hearing opened with a move by Velloff to strike Thomas Buske's Feb. 10 response. Chapman denied the oral motion.

    Thomas Buske is represented by Vicki Cochran, Richard Mieves and others in the divorce.

    Sara Buske is represented by Howard Feldman, Dennis Orsey and others.

    S.C. Johnson is represented by Andrew Velloff, Thomas Keefe Jr. and others.

    The Buske children are represented by Mark Goldenberg.

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