Dart's Haft family settles bitter feud

May 19, 1994|By New York Times News Service Bloomberg Business News contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- A bitter battle that had split one of Washington's most prominent retailing families has ended in a court settlement under which the family's patriarch, Herbert H. Haft, will retain control of the family's companies, which include the Dart Group, Crown Books and Trak Auto.

The case, which had the trappings of a soap opera, was settled on Tuesday. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but people familiar with the case confirmed the details of an article in the Washington Post yesterday that reported Mr. Haft, 73, and one of his sons, Ronald, 34, had bought the interests of Mr. Haft's wife, Gloria, and their eldest son, Robert, 40.

Washington became fascinated with the family's quarrel in the spring of last year, when Herbert Haft suddenly tried to oust Robert Haft from the board of the Dart Group. Robert Haft had until then been regarded as the likely successor to his father, who was chairman. Saying that Robert Haft was unable to respond to challenges from discounters, Herbert Haft replaced him with Ronald Haft.

Michael Klein, the lawyer for Herbert and Ronald Haft, said the agreement had been reached in a series of 20-hour sessions at the District of Columbia Superior Court with two judges, several lawyers, a mediator, and all the members of the family.

Mr. Klein would not discuss the terms, but hinted that his clients were pleased with the results.

"What this suit does, from the perspective of Herbert and Ronald Haft, is that it keeps all companies, public and private, intact and ends all personal arguments," he said.

On April 29, Dart Group reported a first-quarter loss of $7.3 million, or $3.98 a share, reflecting $8 million in legal bills stemming from the feud.

Mr. Klein added that the only litigation remaining existed between Robert Haft and the Dart Group, and is taking place in Delaware. Robert Haft had charged his father and brother, Ronald, with breach of fiduciary duty, waste of corporate assets and breach of contract.

Mr. and Mrs. Haft built their business from a single drugstore that they opened in the 1950s in Washington. In 1977, Mr. Haft backed the idea his son, Robert, had outlined in his thesis at Harvard Business School, and created Crown Books, a bookstore chain.

When Mrs. Haft sided with Robert Haft as the dispute unfolded, Herbert Haft ousted her from the board of Dart Group, one of the family's public companies, based in Landover.

In August, Mrs. Haft asked for a legal separation from her husband, charging him with infidelity, physical abuse and activity designed to lessen her control of the family holdings. Robert Haft and his sister, Linda, sided with their mother.

Mr. and Mrs. Haft have agreed to an uncontested divorce.

Mr. Klein called the settlement "the beginning of a period of peace, after a year and a month of a lot of turmoil." He said, "Hopefully, this peace will be productive professionally and personally."

Aside from Dart Group, the family had several privately held companies, including Combined Properties Limited Partnership, Combined Properties Inc. and Capital Resources Limited

Partnership.

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