Court confirms trial date of Oct. 1 in Robertson case
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek this week confirmed a trial date of Oct. 1, 2008, to hear the lawsuit brought against Princeton University by several members of the Robertson family in July 2002.
Sypek on March 4 provided lawyers in the case with a case management order that outlined a schedule of pre-trial conferences and documents to be provided to the court in advance of Oct. 1, confirming the date set in a Jan. 24 case management conference by former Superior Court Judge Neil Shuster. Shuster has retired from the bench and, as of March 1, Sypek was appointed as his successor.
The determination of the trial schedule follows decisions issued by the court last fall that narrowed the scope of the plaintiffs' complaint and identified the specific issues to be decided at trial.
"We continue to be very pleased with the direction of this case as we prepare for trial," said Douglas S. Eakeley of Lowenstein Sandler PC, the law firm representing Princeton and the four University-designated trustees of the Robertson Foundation. "We are delighted to have a concrete schedule that will give us the opportunity to present our case and demonstrate how effectively Princeton has carried out the purposes of Marie Robertson's gift. The more we study the decisions issued by the court thus far, the more confident we are that a good framework has been established for how the issues will be tried."
On Oct. 25 Shuster ruled on seven pretrial motions that shaped the case for trial. He granted two of the motions, both brought by the University, in their entirety. Shuster agreed that the Robertson Foundation's Certificate of Incorporation permits the foundation to spend realized gains like other charities, and he agreed that the court, rather than a jury, should hear and decide all remaining issues in the litigation, thereby denying plaintiffs' request for a jury trial.
Shuster denied summary judgment on three motions and made divided rulings on two others, ruling that they presented factual issues that should await resolution at trial. Summary judgment motions are granted when there is no genuine issue of material fact and a decision can be made by application of the law.
In filing their complaint against Princeton in 2002, members of the Robertson family asked the court to sever the connection between the University and the Robertson Foundation and to allow them to take control of funds that Marie Robertson gave to Princeton University in 1961 to support the expansion of the graduate program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.
The family members have asked the court to overturn the mechanism that Mrs. Robertson and her husband, Charles, put in place to administer their gift and to convert what is currently a "supporting organization" of Princeton University into a private foundation that the family would control. This would allow the Robertson descendants to spend Mrs. Robertson's gift on purposes other than the one specified by their parents.
"While there remain many complex issues in this case, and we expect the trial to take four months to a year -- depending on how many days per week the judge's schedule allows her to hear arguments -- we are very eager to go to trial," Eakeley said. "Princeton welcomes the opportunity to reach ultimate resolution of these many issues, and we are confident of a favorable outcome."
More information about the case is available at www.princeton.edu/robertson.