COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS SUPERIOR COURT DEPARTMENT OF THE TRIAL COURT SUFFOLK, SS. Case No. 1884CV03213C Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston VS. Maura Healey, as she is the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Free City Library Association TO: Free City Library Association You are hereby notified that a complaint has been filed against you by the above named plaintiff. This complaint concerns a certain parcel of land with building(s) known as 58 Prospect Street, located in Gloucester, Essex County, and said Commonwealth. Plaintiff seeks a judgment declaring that it owns said property through adverse possession, extinguishing any rights that you may have had to said property through the deed from
Jeremiah J. HealytoFree City Library Association dated April 24, 1900
and recorded with the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds in Book 1607, Page 259, or for such further relief as the Court deems just and appropriate. This complaint may be examined at the Superior Court for Suffolk County, Boston, Massachusetts or a copy obtained from plaintiff’s attorney. If you intend to make any defense, you are hereby required to serve upon the plaintiff’s attorney, Kimberly Kroha, Esq., Baker, Braverman & Barbadoro, P.C. whose address is 300 Crown Colony Drive, Suite 500, Quincy, MA 02169-0904 a responsive pleading to the complaint on or before the 31st day of January, 2019, the return day, hereof, and a copy thereof must be filed in the Suffolk Superior Court on or before said day. If you fail to do so, judgment by default will be taken against you for the relief demanded in the complaint. Unless otherwise provided by Rule 13(a), your answer must state as a counterclaim any claim which you may have against the plaintiff which arise out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the plaintiff’s claim or you will thereafter be barred from making such claim in any other action. GT – 12,28, 1/4, 1/11/19
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In 2017, the Berkshire Museum was sued multiple times because of the possible sales of 40 works of art at public auctions. The art has long left the building. The winning consignor, Sotheby’s auction house, received all property prior to the 2017 public announcement from museum leadership blowing its “New Vision” horn. The art remains on hold at Sotheby’s.
At high noon on March 20, 2018, in Courtroom 2 of the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, Justice David Lowy presided over the ongoing Berkshire Museum deaccession litigation. Four attorneys, two for each side, were summoned before the Massachusetts Supreme Court to argue positions. Justice Lowy began the hearing by addressing the elephant in the room. He announced that because the Attorney General Office and the Berkshire Museum, former adversaries, petitioned the court together for necessary relief, he thought it was important to hear opposing views. Therefore, he invited amici to present their arguments, too.
Naturally, this hearing was welcome news for opponents of the museum’s plans to liquidate a priceless core collection in favor of a makeover, still reeling from their perception that the Attorney General abdicated mightily February 9, 2018. Trustees, who believe the museum is broke and will shutter any day if not for this new strategy, were disheartened but determined.
Justice Lowy made the stunning announcement upfront that restrictions do apply, and are a given. The Office of the Attorney General (AGO) and the Supreme Court agree about standing. The museum maintains it has the right to liquidate.The only way that any art can be sold is if the legal contracts pertaining to the Berkshire Museum’s charter and mission and provenance for the art are abandoned because the museum successfully conveys its pending demise. Then it gets a do-over. The legal term is cy pres (pronounced say, pray. I prefer pray stay!)
IF sold, Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop, which has crystal clear provenance, was estimated to fetch the highest price at auction. Inexplicably, the petition before the court boasted of a breezy compromise between the AGO and Berkshire Museum: an anonymous museum will purchase the painting for 1)an undisclosed price (I guarantee that it’s less than public auction), 2) promises a temporary display in Massachusetts, at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and 3)eventually feature it as part of the mystery museum’s permanent collection. Where is the museum? What is the sale price and terms? If its destiny is beyond a Massachusetts border, why isn’t the Commonwealth protecting its resources?*
*Which museum committed funds for Shuffleton Barbershop and can afford to pounce and avoid driving up the price at auction? Perhaps Crystal Bridges Museum backed by Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton, could strike again. Norman Rockwell is already represented in its collection. Is it worth it to add another? The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art could be a contender. George Lucas boasts an impressive Rockwell collection, including ideal examples with cinematic connections or narratives, like the stunning study for charwomen (in movie theater). Is that enough representation to let it go were Berkshire Museum Rockwells cleared to sell?
The other works of art could be sold, or not. One doesn’t get the impression that the AGO was stepping in for the underdog. Leave it to Norman Rockwell to capture the attention of a busy world to illustrate a simple maxim: do the right thing. If legal manuevering is necessary, like crazy zoning variances for unfair construction, most collections will be at a disadvantage. It’s up to the Massachusetts Supreme Court to remedy this balderdash & betrayal else risk breaking the bank of non profits across the country.
Justice Lowy asked that the attorneys focus their arguments on selling with restrictions: “Is it necessary and impossible or impracticable for the Museum’s charitable mission to continue?” All parties stuck to this request, and to their filed briefs more or less. I tried to capture word for word the moments when Justice Lowy interrupted rote statements. Justice Lowy has made no decisions, yet. Eventually, he will decide whether to allow the parties’ petition, deny it, or reserve and report which means bringing the case back to the full court.
Proponents side or Opponents side?
Upon arrival, where to sit at the courtroom felt like where to sit at a wedding. The Berkshire Museum Trustees, Director Van Shields, and those in favor of the Berkshire Museum deaccession sale sat together on the left side of the courtroom. Opponents, numbering 2:1, sat in the center, off to the right, and spilled into the hall. With every available chair claimed some were left standing in the back.
Up first – Attorney Nicholas M. O’Donnell
of Sullivan & Worcester LLP law firm and Erika Todd on behalf of ‘Berkshire Museum Member Plaintiffs’: James Hatt, Kristin Hatt, and Elizabeth Weinberg
O’Donnell excerpt- “Massachusetts stands alone, this decision puts Massachusetts alone …That this court, this petition, this hearing, may be the ONLY obstacle left to account for this action should be unimaginable. IF a conclusory report of operational deficits can support the liquidation for the sale…Make no mistake, I say the art market is watching–”
Justice Lowy cut in- “Maybe they are. I’ve certainly read your key points, Maybe not. Systemic issues that flow from this are not my focus…”
How did the Berkshire Museum brouhaha wind up in the highest court under SJO (Single Justice) review by Justice David A Lowy?
The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, deemed it necessary to alter an original historic building and sell off its priceless core art collection in order to build a dream and survive. This controvertial move garnered attention and divided opinion. The Trustees of the Museum explained that they hired a consultancy firm which confirmed this new direction (“New Vision”), via extensive public outreach* no less, so what gives? (*22 focus groups involving over 200 people is hardly extensive.) Opponents cried, “Foul!”, and pointed out questionable and perhaps shady fodder, i.e. would museum members and the Berkshire community have voted YES had they been told that the best works from the permanent collection must be sold off to make it happen? Also, the art was consigned to Sotheby’s June 13, 2017, but the Trustees altered the museum’s Charter after the consignment date and only then informed the “public”. Timing is everything. There was even an infamous email with a ‘loose lips sink ships’ subject line. We know these details because of dogged reporting by the The Berkshire Eagle, notably Larry Parnass, and a wide network. The story is urgent and compelling, the art world equivalent of a Spotlight-All the President’s Men-Pentagon Papers type investigation.
The first auctions were slated for November 2017. Shuffleton’s Barbershop by Norman Rockwell was to have been the Berkshire Museum star lot. Its presale estimate alone was 20 to 30 million. By the Fall of 2017, the museum was hit with multiple lawsuits, sued by the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General, Norman Rockwell descendants, and various plaintiffs. Eventually, all were folded into #TeamAGO vs. the Berkshire Museum. On November 8th, the Lower Court ruled in favor of the Museum, clearing the legal right of way to auction. The Attorney General Office appealed to the State’s supreme judicial court to block the sale for more time to evaluate and investigate the case. Attorneys for the Museum fought that request vigorously, but were denied. On November 10, 2017, the AGO procured an injunction from Judge Trainor of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, scuttling any scheduled auction prior to December 11, 2017. Allowances for extensions to build the case were granted. On February 5th, the AGO switched teams and filed jointly with its former adversary, the Berkshire Museum, petitioning the court to apply cy pres and maintaining its opinion that indeed all the art is restricted:
“As detailed elsewhere (e.g., in its filings in the litigation referenced above) the AGO believes that all of the works of art deaccessioned and proposed for sale are subject to one or more restrictions that limit the Museum’s ability to proceed with its planned sale and use of proceeds to fund an endowment, pay for operating expenses and fund renovations. The Museum continues to believe no restrictions (beyond the Museum’s charitable purposes) apply.”
This alliance left many scratching their heads and interested parties formerly #TeamAGO adrift. Although the Rockwell plaintiffs backed off and dropped their case, law firms Sullivan & Worcester and Foley Hoag with Barker, Epstein & Loscocco solicited amicus status on behalf of their clients.
Immediately, the AGO and the Berkshire Museum filed opposition papers. They weren’t persuasive. The Justice granted the participation of the law firms which means that the SJ-2018-065 docket was vastly enlarged and enlightened on February 27, 2018, and I had to see. And share. (Although everything I was looking for and questioned was not there.) The attorneys disagree with the AGO and Berkshire Museum proposal, and request oral argument. The AGO and Museum responses were filed after I visited. Justice David A Lowy will make that decision. He can act on filed papers related to Docket SJ-2018-065, order a hearing, or pass the case back to the full court. What will he do? I’m crossing fingers that arguments will be heard, and with the full court (which meets the first week each month and is open to the public), especially after I considered the material in person. The Berkshire Museum could inspire a Frank Capra-esque courtroom movie treatment one day.
In the meantime, the art remains in Sotheby’s possession and the auction house stands down as the case is sorted. The docket includes Sotheby’s contract.
For armchair lawyers and detail detectives: I offer a blizzard of documents, on the eve of the next Nor’Easter blizzard and hope I’ve peaked your interest. (Leaving my analysis aside for now.) Scroll past this post’s “read more” indicator to see interior architectural photos I took of the stunning John Adams Courthouse, and to read some of the complete and unfiltered new filings and documents related to the Berkshire Museum case, specifically-
AMICI CURIAE Sullivan & Worcester LLP law firm on behalf of ‘Berkshire Museum Member Plaintiffs’: James Hatt, Kristin Hatt, and Elizabeth Weinberg, filed Feb 26 2018, case SJ-2018-065 (52 pages)
AMICUS CURIAE Foley Hoag and Barker, Epstein & Loscocco – attorney Michael B Keating of Foley Hoag with attorney Daniel Epstein of Barker, Epstein & Loscocco on behalf of clients: Tom Patti, who completed two commissioned installations for the Berkshire Museum entrance and reception areas–spaces that will be gutted if the historic building is disfigured for the New Vision; Marilyn Holtz Patti – resides and works in Berkshire County as does Tom Patti; Jean Rosseau and Jonas Dovydenas- residents of Stockbridge and Lenox; James Lamme, resident of Egremont; and Donald MacGillis, resident of Pittsfield, MA. (21 pages)
Sotheby’s Contract with the Berkshire Museum (9 pages)
Affidavit from Dan Monroe, Director of the Peabody Essex Museum opposed the Berkshire Museum sale (4 pages)
Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) provided major facility funding since 2000. Some related construction was completed by a board member and warrants scrutiny
Today, January 29, 2018 was the next milestone in the ongoing battle over the Berkshire Museum’s quest to deaccession. Attorney General Maura Healey (AGO) filed a request to push the AGO status report deadline to February 5, 2018. And the “Defendant- Apellant, Berkshire Museum, does not oppose.”
“Unopposed Motion for Extension of Deadlines The Substituted Plaintiff-Appellant Attorney General Maura Healey (“AGO”) hereby requests a one week extension of the deadlines set by this Court on January 12, 2018, such that the preliminary injunction and stay of the trial court proceedings entered on 11/10/17, as well as the AGO’s deadline for filing a status report regarding the status of the investigation, are continued to February 5, 2018. Counsel for Defendant-Appellant Trustees of the Berkshire Museum has informed the undersigned that Defendant-Appellant does not oppose the relief sought herein.” – Respectfully submitted, Dated: January 29, 2018
MA Appelate Court dockets RE#28: The preliminary injunction and stay of the trial court proceedings entered on 11/10/17 are continued to January 29, 2018. The Attorney General’s Office shall file a status report on, or before, January 29, 2018, regarding the status of the investigation or within 5 days of the completion of the investigation, whichever is earliest. (Trainor, J.) *Notice/attest/Agostini, J. – Dated: January 12, 2018
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