An eight-year saga between the City of Quincy and the Woodward School for Girls looks to be coming to an end, as both sides prepare to debate a settlement at the Supreme Judicial Court in October.
The meeting has been long overdue, with Quincy filing an appeal to the high court in January 2012 after the Probate and Family Court mandated in 2011 that the city pay Woodward $3 million for mismanaging a trust fund that benefits the school.
Woodward also sought upwards of $1.3 million in attorney fees from the city. While Quincy has since agreed to pay Woodward at least $100,000 in attorney fees, further legal fees and the entirety of the settlement cost are still up for debate.
“We feel very strongly that the damage claims against the city are problematic, and the Supreme Judicial Court will see that and reverse them,” said City Solicitor Jim Timmins.
The city is not appealing its removal as trustee.
Confidence was also high with Woodward’s attorneys as the final stage of the disagreement comes into focus.
“We’re very confident in the lower court’s ruling,” said Sarah Kim, an attorney with Bingham McCutchen LLP. “The judge’s … finding of fact are over 60 pages long, very detailed, and we think it’s a very thoughtful decision and we feel very good about it.”
The argument is steeped in history, and dates back to the Adams Temple and School Fund account. The fund had been set up by President John Adams to benefit the educational aspirations of Quincy citizens.
In 1822, the fund was entrusted to the city at the bequest of the Adams family to use income from the land to build a temple and support a school.
Funding initially went to the Adams Academy, a boys’ school opened in 1872 on land left by the second commander in chief. Yet when the academy closed in 1907, the money was used at Quincy High School library and even the presidents’ crypts in the Church of Presidents.
The Woodward School for Girls, open since 1894 and also situated on land left by Adams, wouldn’t start receiving funding from the school until 1953. At that time, an SJC ruling designated the school as a beneficiary of the trust.
School officials have said the management of the fund since has been problematic, and the city’s management duties were called into question in 2005.
Woodward officials said the city failed to send the school its annual payment. City officials said the smaller checks were the result of market conditions; however, Quincy’s treasurer never provided an accounting for the money.
A complaint was filed against the city in 2007. Years of document accrual and almost two weeks of trial later, the city was faulted for negligence and removed as trustee. The city was also ordered to pay $3 million in settlement costs.
“Were he to be with us today, President Adams would, most assuredly, not be pleased with the events of the past 57 years,” wrote Judge Robert Langlois in his ruling.
According to Timmins, the courts will take another look at the Probate and Family Court case for the appeal and determine if the evidence presented should have led to a different outcome.
As the case could have larger implications for how trustees could be held individually liable for investment decisions, legal minds have also been asked to comment on the case to the courts, or file amicus briefs.
In the meantime, the city is preparing for the final battle with Woodward, and has continued to rack up legal fees in doing so.
“We stayed with John Leonard on the appeal so we wouldn’t be getting charged for someone to get up to speed,” Timmins said. “That office has handled a lot of appellate work and do a good job and we were comfortable with what they did in Norfolk probate as well.”
Timmins said he expects a decision by early 2014.
Woodward is eagerly awaiting the resolution.
“They are looking forward to getting it resolved so they can get on with their mission of educating young girls,” Kim said.
Since Quincy was removed as a trustee from the school, positive changes have already been implemented, Kim said.
“The new trustee, how he’s managing the trust, is very transparent to the school. He gives them annual accountings of how the assessments have been managed, [and is] very diligent towards the school and towards safeguarding the trust,” Kim said.