Court: 3 from Lenox don't have right to challenge museum board's conduct

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PITTSIFIELD — The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled Monday that three members of the Berkshire Museum do not have the right to challenge the conduct of the nonprofit's board in court, upholding a decision made by a Berkshire judge last fall.

James and Kristin Hatt and Elizabeth Weinberg, all of Lenox, tried unsuccessfully to stop the museum's controversial art sales through a lawsuit in front of Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini in November. In December, the three filed their appeal in Boston, still arguing that, as members of the museum, they held a right to participate in its management and halt the sale of art.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court also rejected that argument.

"The plaintiffs have failed to show how the harm to them by the sale of the subject paintings is distinct from that of the general public," the ruling said. "Their opportunity to give feedback does not provide them a right to participate in management decisions. Therefore, in this case only the Attorney General has standing to sue for any possible breach of such a contract occasioned by the deaccession of the museum art."

After successfully suing to halt planned November art sales, Attorney General Maura Healey's office eventually came to terms with the museum, supporting a request to the Supreme Judicial Court that the museum be allowed to raise $55 million by selling up to 40 works.

As of Tuesday, the museum has sold 20 works through two groups of sales, according to spokeswoman Carol Bosco Baumann. The final two works in the second group will be offered by Sotheby's at auction in November. They have raised at least $47 million so far.

"We are moving forward to secure the future of the Berkshire Museum and ensure it continues to be a vibrant and important part of this community," Elizabeth McGraw, president of the board of trustees, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "And we welcome the community to support that work."

There are more than 40,000 works in the museum's collection.

Nick O'Donnell, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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