Pa. and Barnes must explain why relocation case should not be reopened

The Barnes Foundation under construction at 21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Its collection is to be relocated from its Merion site, above.
The Barnes Foundation under construction at 21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Its collection is to be relocated from its Merion site, above.
Posted: March 30, 2011

Litigation lives on over whether the Barnes Foundation should be allowed to move its priceless collection of art from Merion to Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, Judge Stanley R. Ott of Montgomery County Orphans' Court in Norristown directed the state Attorney General's Office and the Barnes Foundation to explain why the Barnes lawsuit should not be reopened.

Ott ruled in 2004 that the financially strapped foundation should be allowed to move its collection to Philadelphia. In 2008, he dismissed another petition by opponents seeking to block the move.

Ott's order Tuesday came in response to a petition filed in February by opponents of the move, who argued that the 2009 movie The Art of the Steal contained new information revealing that Mike Fisher, former attorney general, acted inappropriately in handling the Barnes case.

The movie depicted Fisher and then-Gov. Ed Rendell pressuring Lincoln University into accepting a sharply diminished role as steward of the Barnes. That paved the way for the foundation to argue successfully that only a move to Philadelphia - where philanthropists said they would support museum construction - would remedy its financial difficulties.

Barbara Rosin, an opponent of the move, said Tuesday that the eleventh-hour effort to reopen legal proceedings was akin to requesting "extra innings" in a baseball game.

"We're asking for extra innings because we were not given a hearing" the last time around, she said.

In 2008, opponents argued that the litigation should be reopened because the state did not disclose that $100 million in state capital funds had been authorized in 2002 for construction of a Barnes museum in Philadelphia.

Ott did not directly rule on that issue at the time; rather, he found that opponents of the move lacked the legal standing to reopen litigation.

Lawrence Barth, senior deputy attorney general, said after Tuesday's brief hearing that there was nothing inappropriate in the state's handling of the Barnes. He argued that his office, charged with protecting the public interest in regard to nonprofit charitable organizations, was not a neutral observer.

"We determine the public interest," he said. "We're an advocate. In this case, we advocated along with the Barnes Foundation [for the move], because we thought it was the best way . . . to maintain the Barnes."

Ott said another petition opposing the move, filed by Richard Ralph Feudale, a lawyer and the author of Barnes Rune 2012 (Decoding the Mysteries of Pennsylvania's Barnes Foundation, A Special American Place), was received Monday.

Ott directed the Barnes Foundation and the Attorney General's Office to respond fully by mid-April to the request to reopen litigation. Opponents then will have until about the beginning of May to answer.


Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or ssalisbury@phillynews.com.

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