ROCKVILLE, Md. (CN) – The University of Maryland claims three trustees of the Literary Trust of Katherine Anne Porter had the Trust dissolved and transferred its assets to a foundation that they set up themselves.
Joining the university as a plaintiff, the Maryland Attorney General claims the defendants “subvert(ed) the Trust” to “secure ultimate control of that property for themselves” through “concealment and fraud, including fraud on this Court.”
Porter is best known as the author of the 1962 novel “Ship of Fools.” She died in 1980. In her will she left the University of Maryland thousands of pages of manuscripts, letters, stories and poems, along with furniture and art – and her publishing rights. Porter spent the last decade of her life near College Park and often used the UM’s resources, the university says in its complaint in Montgomery County Court.
The university claims trustee Barbara Davis, her husband Edward Davis, and co-trustee Francis Kiernan conspired to gain control of the Trust’s assets after E. Barrett Prettyman, the executor of Porter’s will, expressed his intentions to give control of the trust to the Dean of the University of Maryland Libraries.
During months of negotiations in 2007 over who would gain control of the Trust, Barbara and Edward Davis set up the Katherine Anne Porter Foundation, transferred the trust’s assets to it, and tricked the Montgomery County Court into shutting down the Trust, according to the complaint.
Neither Prettyman, the university, nor the Maryland Attorney General was served, but Barbara Davis’ attorney, defendant Jayson Amster “certified, falsely, that he had served the pleadings on the Attorney General,” according to the complaint.
Davis orchestrated the termination of the Trust, while urging Prettyman in letters to shut it down, the UM says. David claimed that her proposal would “allow us all to get back to the real work of our lives, having too long vied with Apollo for the Golden Apple,” according to the complaint.
The UM claims that on the same day Davis wrote this, she “transferred all the then-existing assets and entitlements of the Trust to the Katherine Anne Porter Foundation.”
According to IRS documents, the Katherine Anne Porter Foundation reported $118,747 in contributions from the Literary Trust, including both cash and non-cash assets, the UM says.
Soon after, the university says, Amster sent a letter to the dean that claimed to “clarify any understandable misconception that you are or were a Trustee.”
But the university says that after it presented the Montgomery County Court with its evidence, the court vacated its orders that terminated the Trust and reassumed jurisdiction over it.
The UM claims the Foundation sold $6,274 in Trust assets, and spent $65,065 in legal fees. It says the Foundation last reported holding only $74,725.
Perhaps more damaging, according to the university, is the loss of publishing rights to Porter’s work.
“The University’s digitization project would make Porter’s papers accessible to students, scholars, and readers worldwide, and would substantially advance Porter’s literary legacy. Without the right to publish Porter’s work on the Internet, the University cannot undertake this project,” according to the complaint.
The university adds that it lost control of Porter’s correspondence with significant 20th century literary figures such as William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Sherwood Anderson.
The University, the Maryland Attorney General, and Dean of the University of Maryland Libraries Patricia Steele, allege two counts of fraud and four counts of breach of trust. They sued Tamur and Daniyal Mueenuddin as personal representatives of Barbara Davis, James Bluck as personal representative of Edward Davis, the Katherine Anne Porter Foundation, Francis Kiernan, Celia McGee, Francesca Lisk and Jayson Amster. Barbara and Edward Davis are both deceased.
The university wants an injunction transferring ownership of Porter’s rights and assets back to it, and $200,000 in punitive damages.
It is represented by Anne Donahue of the Office of the Attorney General.