Friday, February 26, 2010

Anita Baker Avoids Jail in Divorce Court Fight Over Royalties

February 26, 2010

Anita Baker avoids jail in divorce court fight

The Detroit News

Detroit --Singer-songwriter Anita Baker will not go to jail today and is negotiating to allow a judge to research how much her ex-husband is owed in music royalties.

"I think we've gotten to the heart of it," Wayne County Chief Family Court Judge Lita M. Popke said, vowing to complete the necessary documents in court today.

Popke ordered Baker to attend a contempt of court hearing this morning after she failed Thursday to explain why she hadn't followed orders to sign letters authorizing a court-appointed expert on music industry contracts to seek information from record companies about payments for the music she has written and performed.

Baker got her chance to speak under oath to the judge today, expressing her anxiety about being under the threat of jail.

"I just want to go home," said Baker, of Grosse Pointe.

"I want you to go home too," Popke told the eight-time Grammy Award winner.

Baker's 2008 divorce from Walter Bridgforth Jr. called for an even split of royalties from two albums made during the couple's 20-year marriage, "Giving You the Best I Got" in 1988 and "Rhythm of Love" in 1994.

Popke on Thursday said Baker has been uncooperative in an effort to establish how much Bridgeforth is owed. Detroit entertainment attorney Howard Hertz, who represents Eminem, among other clients, was appointed by the judge as a music contract expert in an effort to settle the dispute.

When speaking to the judge, Baker pointed out objections to language that might be interpreted as a final decision about money owed to Bridgforth.

Although Baker signed similar letters of direction after her divorce, the new letters contain demands for "mechanical" royalties, or the inclusion of songs created during the marriage on more recent "best of" albums.

Baker objected to the judge that this is an area that wasn't negotiated in the divorce.

"I think I understand Ms. Baker's objection," Popke said before ordering Hertz to meet today with Baker to hammer out new language in the letters to music companies.

"Before you go into that meeting, I want you to understand it's not under the threat of jail or contempt. I am not going to hold you in contempt," the judge told Baker. "I don't want you to feel coerced."

Baker has complained that "experts" have dominated court proceedings since her divorce began in 2007. She has said she wanted to speak directly to the judge.

Much of the court file on Baker's divorce, including documents that detailed the financial settlement between the couple, was ordered sealed in 2007 by Judge Bill Callahan.

Newer documents pertaining to the fight over royalties indicate Baker in 2009 was receiving $200,000 a year from one of the several record companies with which she has held contracts.

Bridgforth has objected to accounting that claims, after expenses, that his half of the royalties from Atlantic and Rhino records amounted to $12,000 in 2009.

Baker's profits also were greatly reduced by production costs. The court file doesn't indicate what Baker has been paid by other sources, including music publishers BMI and ASCAP, and digital sales, satellite and Internet play.

Part of the package of agreed to documents includes a protective order that will keep secret all information discovered by Hertz from everyone but the court and the lawyers involved in the case.

Bridgforth didn't attend the hearings on Thursday or today.


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