Resisting final judgment on White Trust, Jim White’s children bring their own suit against relatives

Panoramic view of the Brite Ranch property in the 1920s. Photograph courtesy of The University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, Marfa Public Library.

BASTROP COUNTY — In August, a yearslong legal battle over the fate of the storied White clan’s assets in Presidio County seemed to conclude with a final judgment upending the family trust. Mac and Beau White had successfully sued their brother Jim, then sole trustee, for breach of fiduciary duty, claiming he had abused his position to enrich himself while failing to care for other beneficiaries. A jury rendered a verdict largely in their favor. The court subsequently ordered the removal of Jim as trustee, the division of the family trust into separate trusts for each sibling, and found good cause for the modification of the trust to allow for the sale of the Brite Ranch land.

In September, Susan Combs was appointed interim trustee of the now-divided White Trust, giving her the power to, among other things, collect liquid assets from the trust, use them to pay off debts, and liquidate the family’s cattle herd in order to pay off the bank.

But both Jim and his children, beneficiaries of the trust their father oversaw, have not gone quietly.

On Monday, three of Jim’s children — James White IV (also known as “Cuatro”), Marti White Wright, and Clinton Wesley White (represented by Cuatro, having been declared incompetent following a traffic accident) — filed a lawsuit against Mac, Beau, and their wives, Julie and Kathleen, in Bastrop County. The lengthy suit includes allegations that Mac and Beau, as trustees of their own individual “children’s trusts” set up by their mother, partook in illegal conveyances and distributions by allegedly selling themselves property interests in a way that violated agreements governing their trusts. It argues that the couples’ actions harmed the suing siblings directly as remainder beneficiaries of the trusts in question. The suit accuses Mac and Beau of breaching their fiduciary duties as heads of their own trusts — the same accusation that had been leveled against their father. The plaintiffs demand $27,765,000 in monetary relief.

The more incendiary allegations involve efforts by Mac and Beau to adopt children in the midst of litigation. The suit details an alleged “sham” adoption by Mac and Beau invoked throughout other court proceedings — both brothers individually adopted 60-year-old Geoffrey Connor, the suit says, “acts of subterfuge that thwart the intent of [grandmother] Eddie and cheat the rightful heirs, Plaintiffs herein.” 

The suit points to a “threatening” email — attached in previous cases as an exhibit — sent by Mac and Beau’s lawyer Frank Ikard in December of 2021 to opposing counsel, in which Ikard states that his clients will adopt children if his settlement offer is not accepted.

“If my settlement ts rejected, and the above-referenced adoptions occur, then the current·

remainder beneficiaries of the White Trust will lose approximately half of the value of

their current remainder Interests,” reads the email. “Additionally, they will be Involved in years of litigation against Beau and Mac’s children to partition the ranch.”

The new suit further accuses Beau of telling an unnamed “White family confidant” of his intention to adopt a child in order to “disinherit” Jim’s children, and goes so far as to accuse him of using a racial slur while doing so.

In 2022, both Mac and Beau adopted the adult Connor, who Jim’s heirs claim is a total stranger to the family. Mac and Beau’s lawyers insist he is a family friend, and, in a lengthy statement to The Big Bend Sentinel, indicated the adoptions were in response to fears that their wives would be left in the dust, having no heirs, with Jim as trustee allegedly failing to provide for them.

“The shares of the Brite Ranch pass, under the terms of the Jane White Trust, only to then children of the current four owners. Because Beau White and his wife Kathleen had no natural children and McMinn White and his wife Julie had no natural children, the apparent scheme of James White, III was for his own children to own a double portion of the ranch when their uncles died,” wrote attorney Deborah McClure.

“After James White, III prevented Beau and Mac, for years, from receiving proper income from the Trust, they became very worried about the future for them and their wives. Beau’s wife Kathleen is now incapacitated with dementia and is in a memory care facility. Beau decided to adopt Geoff Connor, a close personal friend of him and his wife of many years. In this way Geoff could be responsible for Kathleen’s care if Beau passed first. Later, McMinn White decided to do the same thing so Geoff could care for Julie if McMinn passed first. Each brother adopted Geoff, but their wives did not.”

Connor’s insertion in the proceedings also came up in the context of Combs’ appointment as interim trustee — Jim had voiced his objections to Combs’ appointment, arguing that Combs had a “long and close relationship” with Connor, having both worked for Governor Rick Perry, Combs as comptroller and Connor as secretary of state of Texas.

Connor himself did not return a call seeking comment on the adoption.

The filing is the latest of many. In the months since the judgment, father and descendents  have launched a volley of filings across various courts in attempts to halt the undesired outcome. Jim himself has demanded a new trial, arguing the verdict and final judgment are riddled with errors and therefore void; his brothers, meanwhile, have filed a motion to order Jim to demonstrate why he shouldn’t be held in contempt of court, given his disregard for the final judgment’s stipulations (he has continued to remove property from the ranch, they say, still operating as trustee despite being removed).

The three siblings had entered the fray both within the trial court and the court of appeals. In the trial court, they have filed motions for a new trial as intervenor-defendants and counter-plaintiffs, arguing, in part, that they should have been properly notified and involved in court proceedings as interested parties (Beau and Mac’s attorneys have noted that Cuatro was present for proceedings and even directly involved in mediations). 

In the 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso, the siblings have spearheaded two attempts to quash the trial court proceedings — one appeal against the interim trustee’s appointment, accompanied by emergency motions to stay trial court proceedings, was abated by the appeals court and instead referred for mediation. A motion for a writ of mandamus — requesting the appeals court void the final judgment and interim trustee appointment — was denied.

McClure, in her statement, argues that Cuatro has “no current legal interest in the Brite Ranch.”

“It shocks the conscience that James White, IV now seeks to extinguish his uncles’ portion of the ranch and prevent support of their wives. His action comes after his own father was found to have committed fraud against the Trust,” wrote McClure.

Neither the siblings’ attorney, Donovan Campbell Jr., nor Ted Lyon, representing Jim White, returned requests seeking comment.