Princeton, Robertsons settle donor-intent case
Princeton has settled its six-year legal battle with members of the Robertson family over control of the Robertson Foundation, the University announced Dec. 10. Under the settlement, the University will pay $50 million to a new foundation that will support the preparation of students for government service, and another $40 million to reimburse the Robertsons’ legal fees. The Robertson Foundation will be dissolved, giving Princeton control of the remaining funds, according to a University release. Robertson Foundation assets were worth more than $900 million on June 30, 2008, the end of the University’s fiscal year.
The $40 million for legal fees will be paid to the Banbury Fund, a Robertson family foundation, over the next four years. From 2012 through 2018, Princeton will provide $50 million, plus interest, to a new charitable foundation, which will be designated by the Robertson family.
In a message to faculty and staff, President Tilghman wrote that “[w]hile we were confident that Princeton would prevail on the merits of the case, we recognized that the court could provide the plaintiffs with reimbursement from the Robertson Foundation for most or all of their legal expenses.” Legal fees could have grown to a total of $60 million for each side if the case had gone forward, according to Tilghman’s letter. The case was expected to go to trial in 2009.
The Robertson Foundation funds, given by the late Charles ’26 and Marie Robertson in 1961, support the graduate program at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs. William Robertson ’72, a son of Charles and Marie who led the family’s effort to gain control of the gift, contended that the money was not used for its intended purpose. On Dec. 10, he called the settlement “more than a slap on the wrist” and “a message to nonprofit organizations … that donors expect them to abide by the terms of designated gifts,” in a statement released by the family. The Robertsons believe the total cost to Princeton will be more than $100 million, according to the statement.
Robertson wrote in a May 2006 letter to PAW that the funds had failed to achieve his parents’ aim “to recruit, prepare, and place graduate students in careers in government.” But in the Dec. 10 statement, he credited Wilson School Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 for initiating “significant improvements … which more closely adhere to my parents’ intentions.”
News links: History of the Robertson case
University asks for dismissal of Robertson lawsuit [Dec. 4, 2002]
New court papers filed in Robertson lawsuit [March 12, 2003]
In brief: Mediation ordered in Robertson case [Nov. 19, 2003]
Robertson files amended lawsuit [Sept. 15, 2004]
University asks judge to decide key points in Robertson lawsuit [Feb. 23, 2005]
New filings in Robertson lawsuit attract flurry of news coverage [March 8, 2006]
University responds to filings in Robertson lawsuit [April 5, 2006]
Robertson case: $782,375 repaid [April 4, 2007]
In the news: University entitled to insurance payments, N.Y. court rules [July 16, 2008]