Singer-songwriter Anita Baker faced a potential stint in jail for contempt over her divorce settlement with ex-husband Walter Bridgforth, Jr. Baker refused to sign documents that could turn over a portion of her music royalties to Bridgforth but ultimately avoided jail after explaining her position to the judge.
The family court judge had ordered Baker to explain why she hadn’t followed orders to sign letters giving a court-appointed expert on music industry contracts authorization to seek information from record companies about payments for the music she has written and performed. After a hearing on Wednesday, the judge ordered Baker to return to court on Friday and sign the authorizations or face going to jail.
“Frankly, I haven’t heard anything that amounts to an appropriate legal objection to signing these letters,” the judge stated Wednesday. “I’m very upset that we have been here all day saying she isn’t going to sign something she hasn’t read.”
Baker complained that “experts” have dominated court proceedings since her divorce from Walter Bridgforth Jr. in 2007, and she wanted to speak directly to the judge. A Detroit entertainment attorney was appointed by the judge as a music contract expert in an effort to settle the dispute.
Baker’s divorce settlement with Bridgforth called for 50-50 division 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.
Bridgforth has objected to an accounting that would have given him only $12,000 for his half of the royalties in 2009. He believes the true royalty figures were much higher. The court-appointed expert wants access to information directly from the record companies in order to determine the appropriate amount.
Although Baker signed similar letters of authorization immediately after the 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,” the judge said before ordering the court-appointed expert to meet with Baker to rewrite the letters with mutually-acceptable language.