Since September 1990, when Carl Norris filed for divorce in West Chester
from his wife of 16 years, details of the unraveling union have titillated the old-money network from the Florida Gold Coast to stately Newport.
The crossfire was, by society standards, relatively genteel. Although Diana Norris has accused her husband of extramarital affairs, the divorce has never plumbed the sordid depths of the infamous 1983 Pulitzer divorce.
Rather, the gossip had centered on such tidbits as the couple's clothing budget, which hit almost $600,000 last year. Or on the fact that Diana Norris hired a private eye to shadow her husband.
But in recent months, the case has taken on a decidedly nasty and personal tone. So personal, in fact, that the presiding judge, Robert J. Shenkin of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, in April ordered most of the hearings
closed and much of the case file sealed.
Shenkin's order, however, has not stemmed the flow of accusations and revelations emanating from Courtroom Two, the elegant, high-ceilinged chamber in which the Norris case has played out. Veteran court hands cannot recall a more high-powered clash of spouses.
"I think the case, because of the enormity of the estate, is highly unusual, if not unique," said William Lamb, Carl Norris' attorney and one of the county's most prominent lawyers.
Certainly the venerable Morgan Lewis, 640 lawyers strong, would be hard- pressed to take issue.
Diana Norris, the 51-year-old granddaughter of the inventor of condensed soup, has asked Shenkin to add Morgan Lewis as a party to the proceedings.
In the proposed suit, Diana Norris - a woman who can look vulnerable even in shocking pink designer dresses - says she has little experience managing her great wealth. She says that she gave up her formal education at 19 to become a wife and a mother.
Morgan Lewis, she alleges, should have been more vigilant in protecting her interests.
Her contentions center on a prenuptial agreement drawn up for her by Morgan Lewis in 1974, about two weeks before she married Carl Norris.
At the time, the heiress was one of the firm's wealthiest clients. Her husband, Carl, now 50, was a lawyer in the firm's personal law and estate department.
The two met in the early 1970s, after Norris began working on her account. At the time, she was married to Robert H. Crompton 3d, a Chester County fox hunter. Norris, his wife alleges, played a "significant part" in the dissolution of her marriage to Crompton, "ingratiating" himself to the point where the couple began living together while still married to their respective spouses.
Diana Norris contends that in the prenuptial agreement, Carl Norris waived any claims to marital assets that were not jointly owned. Included in those separate assets was his wife's inheritance of some 3.2 million shares of Campbell Soup stock.
In court filings, Norris now contends that he was coerced into signing the agreement by William P. Wood, his superior at Morgan Lewis. Because he managed his wife's investments for some 15 years, Norris maintains that he is entitled to a portion of the increase in the value of her Campbell Soup shares.
Diana Norris' filing said her husband is seeking at least $30 million.
She contends that the prenuptial agreement is valid, and shields her from her husband's claims on her Campbell Soup stock. But in case her husband should prevail, her suit seeks to make Morgan Lewis liable for any of her losses if the agreement is struck down, on grounds that the firm failed to protect her with the agreement.
The proposed suit contains vivid family detail. According to the suit, Diana Norris' uncle, John T. "Jack" Dorrance Jr., son of the inventor of condensed soups and unchallenged head of the Dorrance clan for four decades, expressed his concern to the chairman of Morgan Lewis after learning that Diana was living with Carl Norris in advance of their wedding.
Similar concerns were expressed by her father, the late George Strawbridge Jr., and brother, George Jr., to Brady Bryson, head of the firm's personal law department, the suit says. Bryson assured the two, "rather brusquely," that Diana Norris would be treated fairly, the suit says.
Despite those assurances, Morgan Lewis erred by not recommending that Carl and Diana Norris seek separate counsel, the suit alleges.
The suit also says that Diana Norris signed the prenuptial agreement without question. She was not advised or consulted in advance about its contents, the suit says, nor provided with a copy.
Her suit also charges that Morgan Lewis failed to protect her interests by allowing property transfer documents to be drawn up that gave Carl Norris a claim on the couple's $5.4 million home in Palm Beach, their $2.3 million home in Colorado Springs and 4.7 acres of undeveloped land in Northeast Harbor, Maine, purchased for $1.4 million.
Responding to the allegations, a Morgan Lewis spokesman said on Friday, ''Mr. Norris' assertion that he was misled or forced to sign the (prenuptial) agreement is nonsense. In 1974, Mr. Norris had been practicing law at the firm for six years and was knowledgeable in marital law.
"The firm intends to assert in the litigation that at all times it acted properly and the firm is confident that its position will be vindicated in the litigation."
Lamb said his client, Carl Norris, would oppose his wife's motion to add Morgan Lewis. The law firm "has no business in our case," Lamb said.
Morgan Lewis no longer represents Diana Norris.
Carl Norris' complaints, meanwhile, center on his wife's treatment of Runnymede, the couple's sprawling, $25 million estate in Chester County.
In March, Shenkin ruled that Carl Norris could live at the estate during the divorce proceedings. But according to court documents, when he arrived at Runnymede on April 9 he encountered security guards and a Doberman pinscher.
The garage was filled with autos for which Norris had no keys and the laundry room was bolted shut, the suit says.
According to the suit, Bobby Crompton, Diana Norris' son from her first marriage, told Norris that he would "have to go to the laundromat like everyone else."
Crompton also told Norris that he would be living at Runnymede and ''keeping an eye" on Norris, the suit says.
Carl Norris has charged that his wife had virtually stripped the house of its furnishings. Paintings were removed, silver was hidden and books, glass, a compact-disc player and tapes were taken from the library.
Dead-bolt locks were installed on the exercise room and the wine room, the suit charged. The formal living room was locked and sealed with a yellow sign that read, "Off Limit Danger - Alarmed."
Carl Norris' bedroom at Runnymede, according to the suit, had been stripped of pictures, paintings and golf equipment. Many of his books and clothes were missing. And linen normally used on his bed had been removed and replaced with ''a Jamesway bag filled with polyester sheets and acrylic blankets," the suit said.
Attorneys in the case say many of Norris' complaints have been settled. In any event, he is not using the estate while Diana Norris is in residence in June and July.
The Norrises once were key players in the Dorrance family drama at Campbell Soup. Both were members of the family faction that advocated a sale of the company.
With the divorce, however, Carl Norris is no longer a voice in family affairs. And in April, Diana Norris formally withdrew from the group altogether.
The remaining members of the so-called dissident group now consist of two of the inventor's nine grandchildren - Dorrance Hill "Dodo" Hamilton, of Wayne, and her sister, Hope Hill "Happy" van Beuren, of Newport, R.I. Also members are their husbands and Charles H. Mott, a family financial adviser who now represents the group on the Campbell Soup board of directors.