Judge Rejects 'New Evidence' Against Barnes Foundation Move

Following a new round of appeals, Montgomery County judge Stanley R. Ott has upheld his 2004 decision to permit the Barnes Foundation to move its multibillion-dollar art collection from Merion, Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia and has ordered the petitioners to cover a portion of the fees and costs accrued by the foundation in defending the move, the Delaware County Daily Times reports.

Among other things, the petitioners — including the Friends of the Barnes Foundation and Richard Ralph Feudale, author of a recent book on the Barnes collection — argued that then-attorney general Mike Fisher had "forfeited his neutrality" by not making clear his role in the foundation's efforts to alter Dr. Albert Barnes's directive to keep, in perpetuity, the collection of masterworks he had amassed in its original location. Fisher's role in the negotiations was revealed in the 2009 documentary film the Art of the Steal, in which Fisher and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell discussed how they persuaded the trustees of Lincoln University, a key stakeholder in the decision, to change their position against the move. In so doing, the petitioners argued, Fisher overstepped his authority, giving Ott cause to reopen the case.

However, in a ten-page order, Ott said he found no basis to explore the "new evidence" of improper conduct by the attorney general's office and added that in August, when the parties convened to present their arguments on the preliminary objections, deputy attorney general Lawrence Barth rejected the petition's argument that the attorney general's office had a duty to remain neutral, adding that it is the duty of the AG's office to represent "the interest of the general public and [that it] must act in furtherance of that interest."

Although it would appear as if a final verdict has been rendered, the Daily Times reports that the long-running case might not be over. Indeed, Friends of the Barnes attorney Samuel Stretton indicated in August that he would appeal an unfavorable decision. Even so, Barnes Foundation executive director and president Derek Gillman said that he was "extremely pleased with the judge's decision," and that he "looks forward to the public opening of the Barnes Foundation's Philadelphia campus [in the spring.]"

Cheryl Allison. "Judge Upholds Barnes Foundation's Move to Parkway in Philly." Delaware County Daily Times 10/07/2011.