Sun | Sep 24, 2023

Family split on privacy shield as court set to probate Butch’s will

Published:Sunday | September 17, 2023 | 12:09 AM
The late Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart
The late Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart

Division in the family of late hotel mogul Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart has worsened, as three of his children are fighting a quest by other siblings to have the Jamaican Supreme Court treat details of their father’s multibillion-dollar estate as private.

His widow, Cheryl Hammersmith-Stewart, is also against the move by Adam Stewart, his sister Jaime Stewart-McConnell and Brian Jardim, according to court and legal documents obtained by The Sunday Gleaner.

Adam took over as executive chairman of the hotel chain Sandals Resorts International and the ATL Group following Stewart’s death in January 2021.

Adam, Jaime and Brian, through the law firm Wilkinson Law, wrote the acting registrar for the Probate Division of the Supreme Court in a letter dated August 21, 2023, noting previous discussions and requesting that files relating to their father’s will be sealed or treated as private, meaning they should not be publicly accessible.

“This request is based primarily on serious concerns our clients have for their security having regard, inter alia, to the size of the estate and also the fact that they have young children, which involves heightened security risks,” the firm said.

Granting the request, Wilkinson Law said, would give their clients “at least some peace of mind until the estate is wound up, hopefully as expeditiously as possible”.

The letter was copied to two other firms, Hart Muirhead Fatta and Patterson Mair Hamilton. Trevor Patterson, a senior partner at Patterson Mair Hamilton, is one of four persons whom the senior Stewart appointed executors. Cheryl is also an executor.

Stewart’s estate filed an application in the Supreme Court earlier this year for the 23-page will, dated May 15, 2020, to be probated.

Probating is a standard process in which the courts are asked to declare that wills are valid and accepted as the last testament of the deceased. It paves the way for distribution of the assets in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.

Sabrina and twins Gordon and Kelly, Stewart’s three children with Cheryl, his third wife, are against the move by their older siblings who are children from previous relationships.

Responding on their behalf, the law firm Hylton Powell said Sabrina, Gordon and Kelly “feel strongly that the Jamaican court and registry should treat this probate application in the same way that they treat all similar matters, and that there be no appearance that the estate or beneficiary is being granted special treatment”.

The lawyers said the letter from Wilkinson Law did not indicate what law, rule of court or practice direction authorises the request for the documents to be sealed or for the registrar to actually be able to do so.

They acknowledged that while the court has wide powers in managing cases, those powers are engaged by an application to a judge followed by a hearing involving all the affected parties and “not a private letter to the registrar”.


Hylton Powell further argued that the letter did not disclose that Adam, Jaime and Brian were applicants in a failed attempt to get courts in The Bahamas to seal documents relating to a trust fund that Stewart had set up for his children.

The Cromwell Trust Company, a private trust firm that manages the two trusts in The Bahamas for the Stewart estate, wanted documents filed in a dispute sealed. Court documents show that Adam, Jaime and Brian supported the trust, while Cheryl and her three children were against the move.

Hylton Powell said in the Bahamian case, Adam, Jaime and Brian relied on grounds similar to what they have put before the Jamaican court, including “alleged security concerns”. But it said that after a “heavily contested” hearing, the Bahamian Supreme Court in May 2022 dismissed the application.

The judge emphasised the importance of the principle of open justice and that in order to deviate from that principle, the applicants were required to show that the sealing order was necessary in the interests of justice, the law firm said in its letter dated August 30, 2023.

The judge ruled that Adam, Jaime and Brian “have merely provided that it is more convenient” before declaring that “it is not in the interest of justice to depart from the constitutional principle of open justice”.

They appealed to the Bahamas Court of Appeal, which upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The present request is equally a matter of convenience and not in the interests of justice,” Hylton Powell said, before noting that “our clients have no wish to make the details of their father’s will or his estate public. It is obvious that this is not their intent, as, since his passing more than two and half years ago, they have not taken any action that would have that result”.

Michael Hylton, KC, a consultant attorney to Hylton Powell, confirmed the development and said that up to Friday, he had not received a response from the Supreme Court.

Myers, Fletcher & Gordon advises Cheryl Hammersmith-Stewart in her personal capacity as one of the executors of Stewart’s will.

“Hammersmith-Stewart opposes any attempt by anyone to have this application for probate treated differently from an application for the probating of any other estate. We have informed the registrar of her position,” the firm told The Sunday Gleaner, which has obtained a copy of their August 31, 2023 letter to the senior court official.

Ian Wilkinson, KC, who heads Wilkinson Law, declined to comment.


Stewart’s will addresses a wide range of assets, including more than a dozen real estate properties, the ATL Group (Gorstew Limited), which includes the Jamaica Observer newspaper and the motor vehicle business, and any other business falling outside the Sandals & Beaches Group, the Unique Group, and the HPI Group.

The hotel business is dealt with through two trusts, as he noted that the Sandals & Beaches Group, the Unique Group and HPI Group “fall outside my estate and that I do not have the power of disposition … ”.

The financial values of those assets were not stated, but they are estimated to be worth billions in Jamaican dollars.

He also made provision for US$95 million in cash to be given in various amounts to nine persons.

Stewart bequeathed most of his assets to members of two primary groups – his “United States family”, which are Cheryl, Sabrina, Gordon and Kelly; and his “Jamaican family”, who are Robert, Adam, Brian and Jaime.

Provision has also been made for several other relatives and business associates.