Friday, May 23, 2008

"It just shuts us down"

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week mentioned that Montgomery County is "unlikely" to appeal Judge Ott's latest decision in the Barnes case. The Friends of the Barnes are still thinking about it.

The article also says the County/Friends are "looking west for a strategy" -- a reference to a recent decision of the Montana Supreme Court which the New York Times described as follows:

"The Montana Supreme Court dismissed ... the board of the Charles M. Bair Family Museum in Martinsdale, Mont., saying it breached its fiduciary duties by closing the museum from 2002 to 2005. The court said the board had not spent enough money to give a good start to the museum — home to an eclectic collection of fine European antiques, valuable art works and priceless Indian artifacts. It ordered [the creation of] a new board that has to meet within six months."

The Nonprofit Law Prof Blog has a fuller summary.

I doubt the case will be of much help to the folks in Pennsylvania. The problem for the Barnes opponents, remember, is how to get their foot in the door: Judge Ott threw out the latest round of lawsuits on standing grounds. He never got to the merits. In the Montana case, the lower court found that the relevant "Friends" group did have standing to sue, but, because the Montana Attorney General was also party to the lawsuit, the Supreme Court "decline[d] to resolve whether the [lower court] erred when it determined that the Friends of the Bair had standing in the matter. ... To decide whether the Friends of the Bair have standing would amount to nothing more than an academic exercise."

So all the Barnes Friends really have to go on is a Montana lower court interpreting a Montana statute (Section 72-33-503, conferring standing to sue to enforce a charitable trust on the Attorney General, a co-trustee, or a person possessing a "special interest in the enforcement of the charitable trust"). I'd venture to say that's not quite the game-changer the Barnes opponents were looking for.