S.C. Johnson and Sons Inc. faced off against Thomas Buske, one of the parties in a complicated Edwardsville divorce Friday over whether or not Thomas Buske should be able to keep four cars, including an antique tractor, under his divorce settlement.
Although most of the other issues in the case have been resolved, the vehicle questions remain in dispute, something the presiding judge called "the persistent tractor, truck question."
"What does S.C. Johnson want with this guy's old truck and tractor," presiding judge Madison County Associate Judge Thomas Chapman asked attorneys for the company.
S.C. Johnson attorney Thomas Keefe Jr. answered that the company viewed the items as a "matter of principal."
"I'll tell you frankly, Judge, S.C. Johnson feels like they were robbed blind by Thomas Buske," Keefe said, drawing an objection from Buske's table. "Their mentality was they were violated. Does it make any sense from a dollars and cents standpoint? No. Does it make sense they want to go to war for this guy's tractor?"
Buske argues the tractors are family heirlooms that should be included in the $50,000 in personal property he is allowed to keep under the divorce settlement.
Buske and his ex-wife, Sara Buske, were granted a divorce in February.
S.C. Johnson was also a party to the divorce because it was seeking to enforce a $203.8 million civil judgment that was entered against Thomas Buske in Wisconsin. The civil judgment is related to federal charges pending against Thomas Buske in Wisconsin.
While the divorce has been entered and the bulk of the property and financial issues were settled among the company and the Buskes, S.C. Johnson continues to dispute that Thomas Buske should receive four cars and trucks as part of the deal.
It claims that under the settlement agreement, the vehicles became the company's because they belonged to businesses Thomas Buske turned over to S.C. Johnson in the divorce.
Thomas Buske argues that the vehicles in question either belonged to him outright or that some were titled with the businesses for maintenance purposes.
Byron told Chapman in arguing for his client to keep the items that it was impossible, given the amount of assets in play at the December 2009 settlement conference that Thomas Buske could have thought S.C. Johnson would keep the tractor, truck and other vehicles.
"You were there," Byron told Chapman. "You saw how it went down. There is no way anyone could contemplate every asset being transferred. These are the only things he's asking for."
S.C. Johnson received the bulk of Thomas Buske's assets in the settlement. Sara Buske received $325,000 and the Buske children received $425,000 in trust.
The issue held up matters at the divorce settlement hearing two months ago as Chapman ordered S.C. Johnson attorney Andrew Velloff to go speak with his client by phone several times.
Chapman indicated at that hearing that he wanted to settle the truck matters.
His order from that hearing and language included in a subsequent order March 12 indicated that S.C. Johnson to turn over the vehicles to Thomas Buske and for Buske to notify the company about where he would be keeping them.
Chapman told both parties that he wanted them to work out the issue of the cars and trucks themselves.
His orders left the ownership issue pending further hearings.
Thomas Buske then filed a motion asking the court to find S.C. Johnson in contempt. He accuses the company of "flouting" the court's order because it has not turned over the vehicles.
S.C. Johnson most recently filed its response to both Chapman's order and Thomas Buske's contempt move.It argues that Chapman made his ruling transferred the vehicles to Thomas Buske without a basis in fact and that it violates the December 2009 divorce settlement agreement.
The company wants Chapman to award it ownership of the four vehicles, deny the contempt move and enforce the divorce settlement.
Chapman nipped the contempt issue in the bud quickly, calling it "moot."
He told the parties he would take another look at the settlement and see how the title issue with the vehicles comes into play.
In addition to taking up the tractor issue, Chapman also consulted with Mark Goldenberg and attorneys for the Buske children.
In Chapman's March 12 order, he vacated a trust that would administer the $425,000 to the Buske couple's two minor children.
Chapman disagreed with proposed modifications to the trust that would see Sara Buske receive $3,000 a month in child support payments paid by the trust until she sells the Buske couple's Edwardsville home.
Goldenberg argued that the amount would make the transition for the children easier until such time as their mother finds a smaller residence. He cited the poor housing market as another factor.
"This is not intended to give them a pot of money when they graduate," Goldenberg said.
Chapman apparently was not swayed by the arguments.
"I don't think $3,000 a month should come out of the kids' portion," the judge said.
Goldenberg indicated that his client would appeal an order granting less support than the modifications that had been agreed to.
Chapman was incredulous.
"You're going to be funding an appeal that will give the kids less money?" he asked.
Chapman then ordered that the $3,000 monthly child support pay-outs from the trust would decrease to $1,800 after 18 months regardless of the sale of the house.
S.C. Johnson is represented by Velloff, Keefe and others.
Thomas Buske is represented by Vicki Cochran, Byron and others.