Art law News USA

Judge decides Rauschenberg trustees' $24.6m fees are reasonable

Artist's foundation reviewing position after losing case in Florida court

A Florida judge has awarded $24.6m to three trustees of the Robert Rauschenberg Revocable Trust in a long-running legal dispute with the Rauschenberg Foundation that dates back to 2011.

The trustees sued the foundation for compensation for their “extraordinary services” in administering the trust. Under Florida law, trustees are entitled to “a reasonable fee” should the terms of the trust not specify their remuneration.

The trustees, Bennet Grutman, Darryl Pottorf and Bill Goldston, argued that they deserved a combined sum in the region of $51m to $55m. The foundation argued that this figure should be around $375,000 only.

In a statement the artist’s son and president of the foundation, Christopher Rauschenberg, said: "We are reviewing our legal options and will pursue the course of action that is in the best interest of the foundation."

Shortly before his death in 2008, Rauschenberg asked three friends to oversee his estate: Grutman, the artist’s accountant; Pottorf, Rauschenberg’s companion and the executor of his will; and Goldston, who was a partner with Rauschenberg in a fine art print publishing company.

In his will, the artist stated that his entire estate should go into a trust to be overseen by these three. The Robert Rauschenberg Revocable Trust was intended to distribute its assets to beneficiaries, with the main recipient being the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, which was founded in 1990.

This case revolves around the rapid growth in value of the Rauschenberg estate. At the time of his death in 2008, the artist’s assets were estimated to be worth $605.6m, including works of art and a sizeable property portfolio, according to the court papers. By the time the assets were turned over for management to the foundation in 2012, they were worth $2.2bn, the court papers state.

These figures had been disputed by the artist's foundation, which put the true worth of the assets in 2008 at around $549m. Christopher Rauschenberg said in court that he expects to insure the estate for less than $550m next year.

But the judge found in the trustees favour this week. The court found that Rauschenberg’s appointment of his friends as trustees, made shortly before his death, was a “wise and deliberate decision”, and that he “picked the best possible” candidates. “The evidence at trial supports a finding that the trustees did an exemplary job,” state the court papers.

The judge decided that the trustees helped grow the value of the estate, though added that “the talent of Robert Rauschenberg and favourable market conditions were also contributing factors”.

The $24.6m is to be divided between the three trustees, less the $8m which they had already awarded themselves.

In a statement, Christopher Rauschenberg said the foundation was disappointed in the decision. “We believe this case is a simple matter of evaluating the value of the services rendered by the trustees, which we consider to be modest and not meriting an amount of this magnitude." He added: "Every dollar spent on this matter is a dollar not spent on the charitable mission that my father cared about so deeply."

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23 Sep 14
18:7 CET


For further reading, The New York Times reported: "Chief Judge Jay B. Rosman...ruled that the trustees had done "an exemplary job" in managing Rauschenberg's estate after the artist's death in 2008...the trustees were loyal to Rauschenberg and his vision...and...focused on maximizing benefits...increasing the value of the artist's assets from $605.6 million at the time of his death to about $2.2 billion at the time of their disbursement to the foundation in 2012. The $24.6 million in fees — less $8 million already received by the trustees — would be divided among the three trustees....initially claimed they were owed $60 million for their work, but at the trial they lowered their request to $51 million. The foundation maintains that $375,000 is a reasonable fee.

4 Aug 14
16:25 CET


The award amounted to, as I understand it, a bit more than the amount requested by the trustees, yet the article sounds otherwise, and omits any mention of how the sum was to be divided among the trustees. There was little detail provided.

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