BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The von Trapps, a family known around the world, asked the Vermont Supreme Court last week to resolve a bitter financial dispute between two factions of the family.
In a hearing Thursday, lawyers asked the justices to decide whether minority stockholders in the family corporation were paid enough money when they were bought out by another family group in 1995.
The minority group argued that they were underpaid by nearly $3 million, and a trial court upheld that view in a decision in May.
The family, whose flight from Austria and Nazism was dramatized in "The Sound of Music" on Broadway and in film, settled in Vermont more than 50 years ago.
In 1962, the members founded the corporation Trapp Family Lodge, which owns a 93-room inn, a ski-touring center and 100 time-share condominiums, all on 2,200 acres on a mountaintop in Stowe. The company also owns 80 percent of the royalty rights to "The Sound of Music."
Stock in the original corporation was owned by 33 family members and could be sold only to other family members.
Although the family has been reluctant to discuss the matter, Johannes von Trapp, the youngest son of Baron Georg and Maria von Trapp and leader of the majority faction, said after the hearing that the tensions began to erupt after the death of his mother in 1987.
Peter Langrock, the lawyer representing Johannes von Trapp and his allies, said von Trapp was ousted as president of the corporation in 1992 and replaced by a nephew. A year later, Johannes von Trapp regained his post as president and his nephew left the company.
In an effort to modernize the corporation, Langrock said, his client and the other majority shareholders decided to restructure the company, allowing stock to be sold outside the family for the first time.
Shareholders who objected to the new arrangement were bought out for $34 a share in January 1995. A month later, these minority shareholders, exercising their rights under Vermont law, challenged the deal and demanded a buyout price of $61 a share.
The case went to Vermont Superior Court, and in May, Judge John Meaker ruled that "the fair value of a share of the common stock of Trapp Family Lodge Inc. on Jan. 28, 1995, was $63.44" and ordered the new owners to pay the difference, plus interest, an amount that comes to nearly $3 million.
Pub Date: 2/22/98