When I first wrote about this case in 2006 [click here], I saw it as a prime example of public relations as litigation tool. (Check out the litigants’ dueling websites: here, here). Well, fast forward two years, the Princeton suit settled on the eve of trial. Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times piece entitled Princeton Settles Money Battle Over Gift reporting on the terms of the deal:
In 1961, when the A.&P. grocery heirs Charles and Marie Robertson gave Princeton a $35 million gift endowment, they directed that the money should be used to educate graduate students for careers in government.
But in a lawsuit filed in 2002, the Robertsons’ descendants claimed that Princeton was misusing the gift, which peaked at more than $900 million in June, spending it on training students for a broader range of careers. The endowment provides most of the financing for graduate programs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
The case was to go to trial in January.
Under the settlement, Princeton will pay $40 million in legal fees, and, starting in 2012, another $50 million, plus interest, to a new foundation that will support education for government service. Princeton will be able to use the remainder of the money for the Wilson school, as it chooses.
Based on these settlement figures, my sense is that Princeton settled not because it was afraid of losing at trial ($90 million is a lot of money, but it’s a relatively small % of the total endowment fund), but because it wanted to finally kill this case and turn off the bad-publicity machine.
As trusts-and-estates lawyers, why should we care about all this? Because advising clients with respect to charitable giving is often a big part of our practice. And sometimes those charitable gifts go sideways on our clients. If the parties end up in litigation, understanding the unique dynamics at play in these situations can make all the difference in the world.