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Judge releases $60,000 to Etta James' medical care

January 14, 2011 | 10:47 am

Etta jamesA Riverside County Superior Court judge on Friday approved the release $60,000 to care for ailing jazz and blues great Etta James, whose husband and sons are locked in a court dispute over control of the singer’s $1-million in savings.

James, known best for her recording of “At Last” and “Tell Mama,” suffers from dementia and is undergoing treatment for leukemia at her home in Riverside, where the 72-year-old receives around-the-clock medical care.

The court fight began last year when James’ husband of 41 years, Artis Mills, filed legal action to transfer the singer’s money into his name. The petition is being opposed by James’ son, Donto James of Moreno Valley, who was granted power of attorney over his mother’s affairs in 2008.

Both her husband and son said their only concern is to ensure James receives the proper medical care.

“I’m only trying to take care of Etta James," Mills said after Friday’s hearing.

But during the hearing, her son’s attorney, D.P. Sindicich of Los Angeles, questioned why the singer would have kept her personal and business bank accounts solely in her name all of these years.

Judge Thomas H. Cahraman postponed the case until Feb. 24, but ruled that $60,000 from James’ accounts should be released to her husband so he “will have the resources to take care of this nice lady."

Mills estimates he spends about $30,000 on the singer’s care, which includes a full-time doctor and nurses at their home in Riverside’s Woodcrest community.

Mills, court records show, is arguing James was not of "sound mind and judgment" when she granted power-of-attorney to her son in February 2008. One of the singer’s other sons, Sametto James of Riverside, said his mother was of sound mind at the time and, in fact, was touring the country and appearing on television that year.

“She was fine. She knew what she was doing," he said after Friday’s hearing.

According to a declaration filed by her attending physician in November, James’ health has deteriorated recently. She has a form of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease, combined with symptoms of organic brain syndrome.

She also was recently diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia and is undergoing chemotherapy, according to the declaration.

James was born as Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. She battled drug addiction throughout her long career but continually bounced back, aided by her golden, soulful voice.

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-- Phil Willon in Riverside

Photo: Etta James performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last spring. Credit: Rick Diamond / Getty Images.

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