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Family divided over fortune told to mediate

Published Sep. 26, 2005

A circuit judge ordered Culverhouse family members Monday to try to resolve their differences concerning a $63-million trust by sitting down with a mediator.

Without mediation, "It's just going to be ongoing litigation with no end to it," said Judge Susan Sexton.

The judge, somewhat facetiously, also warned that so many law firms have worked on the seven-year-long Culverhouse estate matter that finding a local lawyer to act as mediator might be impossible.

"So many lawyers have worked on this case that whenever there was a motion offered, it looked like the wave at Tampa Stadium," Sexton said.

Most recently, the attorneys _ there were eight at Monday's hearing _ have been arguing about whether the latest Culverhouse trustees have the right to dissolve a trust and hand over its assets to Joy McCann Culverhouse.

Gay Culverhouse, Joy's daughter, says dissolving the trust will result in her being disinherited and will nullify the intentions of her father, late tax lawyer and Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse Sr.

Gay Culverhouse, the Bucs' president while her father was team owner and now an adjunct professor at Columbia University, has asked that certain trust assets be frozen and that all trustees _ including her brother, South Florida attorney Hugh Culverhouse Jr. _ be removed.

Before dying of lung cancer in 1994, Hugh Culverhouse Sr. amassed a fortune worth an estimated $381-million. Culverhouse placed the bulk of his estate in a trust the year before his death, appointing three close associates to administer it.

But Joy Culverhouse, then 76, challenged the trust, asserting that she was tricked into signing away her rightful marital property by a husband intent on divorcing her and marrying a younger mistress. In 1997, Mrs. Culverhouse prevailed, getting the original trustees removed and winning a settlement worth almost $36-million. Since then, new trustees _ Hugh Culverhouse Jr., estate attorney Thomas K. Purcell and brokerage executive Andrew Capello _ have overseen trusts holding remaining assets.

The trust agreement called for Mrs. Culverhouse to receive income from the trusts for life _ about $7-million annually, so far. Assets in the largest trust, called "Trust A," were to be divided equally between Hugh Jr. and Gay at the time of Mrs. Culverhouse's death.

Last year, however, the trustees elected to dissolve Trust A so that Mrs. Culverhouse could manage the assets and make charitable bequests while still living, Purcell testified. The widow also agreed that she would make after-tax gifts to her two children of at least $12.5-million.

Friction arose between mother and daughter, however, when Mrs. Culverhouse insisted the gift to Gay Culverhouse be placed in a new trust. The reason, Purcell testified Monday, was that Mrs. Culverhouse had concerns about Gay's ability to handle cash.

Mrs. Culverhouse had already given her daughter large amounts of money, including a $2-million gift at one point, Purcell said, but "based on her request for more money, I assumed she had spent all that."

Purcell also said Mrs. Culverhouse had concerns about Gay's creditors, saying he was aware of "certain lawsuits" filed against Gay in the Tampa Bay area. One such suit, filed by the Bank of Tampa in 1999, says Gay Culverhouse signed a $125,000 promissory note with Carlino's Catering Service that is now in default.

After the money squabble, Mrs. Culverhouse wrote a letter saying she no longer intended to make the gift to her daughter. Gay Culverhouse then filed motions to prevent Trust A from being dissolved, claiming that without it she would be entitled to nothing when her mother dies.

"What we're facing today is a rush to judgment," Gay Culverhouse's attorney, Richard Nielsen, said Monday. "This is a case about the right of a daughter to receive an inheritance from her father set out in 1994."

But Peter Kelly, attorney for the trust, argued that the trustees are acting "judiciously and in good faith" and are doing "exactly what Hugh Sr. intended."

Judge Sexton denied Gay Culverhouse's motion for an injunction that would have temporarily thwarted the dissolution of Trust A. But she reserved ruling on Gay Culverhouse's motion to remove the trustees while ordering both sides to seek mediation.