2017-05-18 / Top News

Lawsuit over Rauschenberg estate fees a matter of trust

Special to Florida Weekly

The white silhouette of the home is etched against the night sky 
PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTO The white silhouette of the home is etched against the night sky PETER ROSKOVENSKY / COURTESY PHOTO The nine years since Robert Rauschenberg’s death in 2008 have not been without controversy over his art and estate.

Three trustees of the Rauschenberg Revocable Trust brought a lawsuit against the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in 2011, seeking $60 million in fees for their services. The trustees were:

• Bennet Grutman, who was Rauschenberg’s accountant.

• Bill Goldston, who partnered with Rauschenberg in a fine art print publishing company.

• Darryl Pottorf, Rauschenberg’s best friend, companion, fellow artist and executor of Rauschenberg’s will.

The trust was charged with distributing the artist’s assets to his beneficiaries. The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation was the primary beneficiary.

The lawsuit was contentious and widely publicized.

The trial was held in Lee County Circuit Court in June 2014. Pottorf was the only trustee not to appear in person to testify. However, portions of Pottorf’s deposition testimony were read in court.

The foundation claimed that the amount the trustees sought for their services was excessive.

The trustees claimed that their efforts had helped to grow Rauschenberg’s estate from about $600 million to $2.2 billion.

The trustees were awarded $24.6 million by the court in August 2014. While that was less than half the amount originally sought, Judge Jay Rosman wrote: “The evidence at trial supports a finding that the Trustees did an exemplary job.”

The foundation thought differently. A statement released at the time by Christopher Rauschenberg, the late artist’s son and head of the foundation, read in part: “For over three years now, the Trustees have continued to pursue a case that drains resources from the Foundation that is my father’s legacy, and that distracts from the good work he intended for his Foundation. Every dollar spent on this matter is a dollar not spent on the charitable mission that my father cared about so deeply.”

The Rauschenberg Foundation appealed the judge’s decision. A second district appeals court upheld the $24.6 million award in January 2016. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, effectively letting the award stand.

Pottorf did not provide any public comment during or after the legal battle.

When asked for this story whether the trustees’ lawsuit and its result had anything to do with his decision to sell Rauschenberg’s house, Pottorf said: “No, not really. It made it a little unwelcome feeling for a while.”

Asked about his current relationship with the Rauschenberg Foundation, Pottorf said that lawyers were continuing to work out the final details of the court’s decision. He also said that he had offered to sell the Rauschenberg home to the foundation, before putting it on the market. The foundation declined, he said.

Christopher Rauschenberg did not respond to questions about the status of his relationship or the foundation’s relationship with Pottorf.

Mark Pace, who works for Pottorf and is a longtime friend and companion, said that Pottorf had a wonderful life with Rauschenberg. “He wants to keep those memories and move forward,” Pace said. That includes Pottorf being recognized for his own talent and creativity, Pace said.

“He doesn’t want any more negativity,” Pace said. “The foundation happened, and it’s over. Leave the rest alone.” All you can do is “take the lessons of history and apply it to the future,” he said.

Pottorf said he looks to a future where any differences between him and the foundation might be reconciled. “I hope to be able to work with them and help fulfill Bob’s wishes,” he said. ¦

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