Fayette County

John Y. Brown criticizes Suzanne Somers' husband at trial

Former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. took the stand Tuesday during a Fayette Circuit Court trial involving actress Suzanne Somers, foreground, and a failed business in which they were involved.
Former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. took the stand Tuesday during a Fayette Circuit Court trial involving actress Suzanne Somers, foreground, and a failed business in which they were involved.

Actress Suzanne Somers was energetic and enthusiastic, and lived up to her part of the deal in a failed do-it-yourself meal preparation business, former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown told a Fayette Circuit Court jury Tuesday.

The only problem was she married the wrong person, he said.

"We can all be guilty of that," he said.

Brown was testifying in a case that pits Somers against Louisville businessman and attorney John Shannon Bouchillon. Bouchillon is seeking to recover $400,000 he invested in the failed Suzanne's Kitchen, which had a flagship store in Lexington from late 2006 to early 2007. He claims he was not told the truth before and after he invested. Somers' name and likeness were used to brand the business; Brown ran the company. Initially, Brown was one of the defendants in the suit, but he was dismissed as a party in the case last week at Bouchillon's request.

Brown testified Tuesday that a few months before the Lexington store opened, Somers' husband, Alan Hamel, a partner with her in licensing companies for products she endorses, "came out of the blue" with the idea that food sold at Suzanne's Kitchen had to be organic and all-natural.

"It's totally unrealistic for this business," Brown said.

Such food, when it could be bought, cost twice as much, and there was no distribution system, Brown said.

He said he tried to maintain a sense of humor after Hamel sent him an e-mail in June 2006 that made references to two food ventures in which Brown had been instrumental — Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken restaurants and Chicken by George, a line of grocery store entrees named for Brown's then-wife, Phyllis George. The e-mail, shown to jurors, said the chicken in Chicken by George was "all crapped up" with life-threatening chemicals, and Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken had all the "crap" chicken producers could "shove into their stock."

"He was trying to tell me I didn't know anything about the food business, I guess," said Brown, who is perhaps best known for building Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Brown recalled a meeting with Somers and Hamel in July 2006 during which Brown said Hamel was "obnoxious and insulting" and an "emotional egomaniac." Hamel hollered and screamed, he said.

"I've never had anybody talk to me like that in business," Brown said.

Brown said Somers apologized for Hamel's behavior.

"He's the one who got her not to sign the contract with Three's Company," Brown said, referring to the popular television show Somers left after starring in it from 1977 to 1981.

Brown said that earlier, Hamel and Somers had invited him to their Palm Springs, Calif., home, where Somers cooked a great meal.

Brown said he did not fault Somers for the failure of the project and had no problems with her. But he said he wanted to get out of the Suzanne's Kitchen deal because of Hamel. Somers' licensing company for food, dominated by Hamel, wanted more control of the project and changes in the deal that weren't reasonable, he said.

When the Lexington store opened, even though his dealings with Hamel had been tense, Brown hired a jet to fly Hamel and Somers to Lexington for the event. That cost $6,500, he said.

Brown told jurors he closed the Lexington store after receiving a letter from the attorney for Somers' licensing companies' telling him to stop using her name and likeness because there were no legal licensing or operating agreements. Brown planned to continue to try to build a chain of outlets similar to Suzanne's Kitchen using another brand name, he said.

In the end, the concept failed because "Mom doesn't want to go back to the kitchen to cook dinner any more," Brown said.

Bouchillon and Jim England, president of Somers Licensing Cos. for food, also testified Tuesday.

Bouchillon, who wrote two checks to Brown totaling $400,000, said he wouldn't have given Brown the money if he didn't think it was going to be used by the company operating Suzanne's Kitchen. But Bouchillon agreed the only direct contact he had with Somers was when he met her at the grand opening of the Lexington store and when he saw her at a deposition she gave in the legal case.

Bouchillon's money was deposited in a Suzanne's Kitchen account, according to court testimony.

England said that Brown had no contract with Somers, that there never were any investors in the company doing business as Suzanne's Kitchen and that Bouchillon's investment went to a company operated by Brown. England said it was logical for Brown to tell investors they had a deal with Suzanne Somers, but that it was a general statement that was not legally accurate. Bouchillon could be said to have been an indirect investor, he said.

Somers, who has been in the courtroom throughout the proceedings, is expected to testify Wednesday.

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