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Judge’s Rulings Set Stage for Princeton-Robertson Trial

October 28, 2007

(Oct. 29, 2007) New Jersey Superior Court Judge Neil H. Shuster has ruled that Princeton University is not the sole beneficiary of an $880 million endowment, allowing a lawsuit brought by the original donor’s family against the university to proceed to a trial.

The heirs of Charles and Marie Robertson, an heir to the A&P supermarket fortune who contributed $35 million to the university in 1961 for its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, have argued that the university has not used the funds in the manner in which their parents had intended, which was to help train and prepare diplomats. The family also claims that the university has misused nearly $200 million that, if it had been invested, would have generated an additional $400 million.

The university has argued that it has been using the endowment funds in accordance with the donor’s wishes and has wide latitude in how it uses the funds to meet the donor’s original intent.

Rulings Help Both Sides

The judge’s rejection of Princeton’s motion that it was the sole beneficiary of the gift was critical to the family’s case. If the judge had accepted the motion, it would have been impossible to take away the endowment from the university.

At the same time, the judge also ruled that he would dissolve the relationship between the Robertson foundation, which has the endowment and is controlled by Princeton, and the university only under “the most egregious and nefarious of circumstances.” The ruling gives the Robertson family a very high standard to meet in showing the university did not act properly and to have the endowment reverted back to its control.

The family is seeking to have the Robertson Foundation, and the $880 million endowment, separated from Princeton. It also is seeking up to $600 million in damages because of alleged abuse by university officials of the endowment funds and investments.

No date has been set yet for the trial.

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