The bitter fight for control of the Culverhouse family fortune ended suddenly Thursday with smiles all around and a settlement worth $45-million.
The settlement puts an end to three lawsuits that pitted the 76-year-old widow of late Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh F. Culverhouse Sr. against his closest confidants _ the three lawyers he picked to carry out his last wishes and administer a $381-million estate.
The estate battle kept two dozen lawyers busy for a year. It filled court files with more than 20,000 pages of testimony that titillated observers with details of Culverhouse's extramarital affairs and his efforts to leave his wife and run off with a younger woman.
But the exhaustive testimony tested patience and stretched reputations thin on both sides. When a settlement was reached Thursday morning after just two days of trial, both sides seemed relieved.
"The civil war is over," said Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. after embracing chief trustee Steve Story, whom he now replaces. "It's time for healing.
"It's time to let my father die. It's time to move on."
The settlement gives the widow, Joy McCann Culverhouse, $34-million from the trust, some say in how assets are donated to charity and the power to make some bequests immediately. Under terms of the original trust, bequests were to be made only after her death and were to be determined only by trustees.
"I'm very happy," said Mrs. Culverhouse. "I can now give to the charities what I want, and I don't have to get dead to give it."
Culverhouse Jr. added, "If dad looked at this today, I think he'd say, "They did a damn good job.' "
While the settlement agreement remains confidential, attorneys for Mrs. Culverhouse and the trust announced the widow would use $9-million of her $34-million payment to make immediate donations to the University of South Florida and the University of Florida. A contribution of $2-million will go to Dr. Worth Boyce's Center for Swallowing Disorders at USF, $5-million will be placed in trust for the USF Breast Cancer Clinic run by Dr. Charles Cox, and $2-million will help pay for the new library and technology center at the University of Florida law school. Attorneys said the settlement calls for trustees Story, Fred Cone and Jack Donlan to resign their posts and accept a total of $9-million to satisfy any claims they had for trustees' fees or amounts due Story under a lucrative management contract.
When Culverhouse established his trust in 1993, he reneged on a promise to make family members trustees and named instead Story, his law partner and business manager; Cone, a Jacksonville lawyer who was the longtime Culverhouse family attorney; and Donlan, a Naples lawyer and former NFL Management Council executive.
In compensation letters, Culverhouse agreed to pay the three a total of $20,000 a month in trustees' fees, a total of $1.25-million upon termination of the trust and $250,000 apiece plus incentive amounts for selling the Buccaneers.
But after Mrs. Culverhouse discovered Story, Cone and Donlan paid themselves $1-million bonuses each for negotiating the record sale of the Bucs, and paid other bonuses to Story under his 10-year contract to manage trust assets, she accused the trustees of "self-dealing" and sued for their ouster.
Under the settlement, the widow agrees to drop all litigation pending against the three when they resign. That ends a suit accusing Story of conspiracy to defraud Mrs. Culverhouse of her rightful marital assets, as well as a legal malpractice suit against Cone.
The successor trustees are Culverhouse Jr., Mrs. Culverhouse's son and a Miami lawyer who assisted the legal team suing the original trustees; Andrew Cappello, a financial adviser with Smith Barney; and Rich McKay, general manager of the Bucs.
Out as a trustee, Story will remain as manager of the trust, whose chief assets include land, utility companies and securities.
"I'm very pleased with the settlement," Story said. "I'm looking forward to working with the successor trustees and Mrs. Culverhouse."
Story outraged the Culverhouse heirs with admissions that he negotiated a secret $150,000 "palimony" settlement with one mistress of Culverhouse Sr. and helped pay the psychiatric fees for a second paramour out of his own pocket.
But he also impressed the family with his adept handling of a 37-company empire that had gotten out of control at the time of Culverhouse Sr.'s death in August 1994. Under Story's control, the trust's debt was reduced from $115-million to zero, while liquid assets increased from $5-million to $80-million.
Mrs. Culverhouse, named to receive all income from the trust during her lifetime, is the beneficiary of Story's effectiveness. Attorneys calculate the trust income she has received so far has averaged $45,000 a day, and Culverhouse Jr. saw no reason to fire Story.
"I've been insisting Steve stay," he said. "Steve has created enormous wealth in the trust through selling assets.
"Why reinvent the wheel?"
Thirty-eight charities, non-profit groups and educational institutions will receive an immediate windfall from the Culverhouse Trust as a result of Thursday's settlement. The 38 will get bequests of "no less than $50,000" this year. Additional $50,000 bequests will go to the Community Foundation of Greater Tampa and to the University of Alabama, Mr. and Mrs. Culverhouse's alma mater.
One observer who had watched the Culverhouse estate saga unfold and felt both sides of the drama was John Ross. He was Culverhouse Sr.'s driver and personal assistant and remembers his boss as "a great man." But he also was privy to Culverhouse's darkest secrets, and when he became Mrs. Culverhouse's driver, he acknowledged it hurt to testify in front of her about her husband's mistresses.
"That's the sad thing, that it was such a spectacle," Ross said. "I wish they could have settled this whole thing a year ago."
JOY CULVERHOUSE: The widow is to receive a settlement of $34-million from the trust.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: The school gets $7-million from Mrs. Culverhouse's $34-million. The state will match with $7-million. The $14-million will be used for breast cancer research and the Institute for Swallow Disorders.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Another $2-million from the $34-million will go to the University of Florida.
CURRENT TRUSTEES: Steve Story, Fred Cone and Jack Donlan will step down and receive a one-time payment of $9-million. Story will stay on as trust manager at a salary to be negotiated.
NEW TRUSTEES: Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr., accountant Andrew Cappello and Tampa Bay Bucs General Manager Richard McKay.
OTHER CHARITIES: A list of 38 charities and non-profit groups will receive a bequest of $50,000 each this year. At the death of Mrs. Culverhouse, the new trustees will determine which charities receive remaining trust assets.
The Culverhouse settlement
THE TRUSTEES: Steve Story, Fred Cone and Jack Donlan, the trustees selected by Hugh F. Culverhouse to administer his trust assets after his death, agree to step aside. They will be replaced by lawyer Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr., accountant Andrew Cappello and Tampa Bay Bucs general manager Richard McKay.
TRUSTEES' FEES: Story, Cone and Donlan were collecting a total of $20,000 a month in trustees' fees and were guaranteed $1.25-million when the Culverhouse Trust terminated. In addition, Story had a management contract paying a base salary of $244,000 and other perks. The trustees will relinquish claims to all fees and payments for a one-time payment of $9-million. Story will stay on as trust manager at a salary to be negotiated.
JOY CULVERHOUSE: The widow is to receive a settlement of $34-million from the trust. Of that figure, she will donate $7-million immediately to the University of South Florida and $2-million to the University of Florida. As long as she lives, Mrs. Culverhouse will continue to receive all income generated by the Culverhouse Trust.
THE CHARITIES: Hugh F. Culverhouse's last wishes called for his trust assets to be donated to some or all of a list of 38 charities and non-profit groups, as determined by Story, Cone and Donlan, and only after the death of Mrs. Culverhouse. Under Thursday's settlement, each of the 38 will receive a bequest of $50,000 immediately. Upon Mrs. Culverhouse's death, the new trustees will determine which charities receive remaining trust assets.
LEGAL ACTIONS: All litigation against the trust by Mrs. Culverhouse is now ended. That includes her civil action against the three trustees claiming "self-dealing" and wasting of trust assets, a conspiracy suit against Story accusing of him of tricking her into signing away marital assets and a legal malpractice claim against Cone, who was both trustee and personal attorney to Mrs. Culverhouse. An inquiry into Cone's actions by the Florida Bar Association remains pending.
LEGAL FEES: Mrs. Culverhouse will pay her own legal fees, expected to be more than $1-million. The trust will pay legal fees for the trustees, an amount that stood at $1.3-million at the end of October.