University Combats Endowment Suit By Seeking Sole Beneficiary Status
In a counter maneuver to a lawsuit over the alleged misappropriation of about $100 million of endowment funds, attorneys for Princeton University are now seeking a ruling from the New Jersey Superior Court that would essentially declare the academic institution as the sole beneficiary of the Robertson Foundation an entity created with a $35 million gift in 1961 to prepare students at the University's Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs for careers in public service.
The gift, currently worth approximately $620 million, has allegedly been misused by the University, and Robertson family members are now seeking to gain control over the foundation. A principal in the lawsuit against the University, William Robertson is the son of the original donors Charles and Marie Robertson, both deceased, and is the heir to the family's fortune, which was built on the success of the national grocery chain, A&P.
The relationship between the Robertsons and the University soured, and now the family claims the University has misappropriated the money. Too many Woodrow Wilson graduates are entering the private sector, and as such, the current $620 million endowment should be returned to the family, the lawsuit says.
In this most recent filing, the University is seeking a ruling from the courts that would preclude the Robertsons from using the money for programs in other academic institutions. In a news conference last year, Mr. Robertson had identified Tufts University as a possible beneficiary of returned endowment funds.
When the suit was first filed in 2002, a University statement said Mr. Robertson's primary objection was not to the number of graduates finding work in the private sector, but to the board's recommendation that PRINCO, the University office that oversees investment of the University's endowment, be retained to manage the assets.
"Since filing their original complaint in July 2002, the family trustees have used their positions as trustees of the Robertson Foundation to oppose and obstruct proposed financial support of the Robertson Foundation for the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School," the University's filing said.
Douglas Eakely, attorney for Lowenstein Sandler, which is representing the University in the Robertson case, said he and his clients would "like an end to the dispute over these issues as quickly as possible," adding that the University would seek to resolve "other differences among the trustees of the Robertson Foundation."
Calling the University's filing a "repackaging" of the defense that they "have done no wrong," Seth Lapidow, of the firm Saul Ewing, said his client, Mr. Robertson, is considering his options about what to do in the face of the University filing.
"They're trying to seek a declaration that they don't lose, and we're considering our options, but we think [the filing] is pretty non-substantive."
Mr. Lapidow added that he expected to try the case before Superior Court Judge Neil Shuster of the Chancery Division in March 2006.