A succession battle has been looming over the late Scholastic owner’s decision to leave the $1.2billion Harry Potter publisher to his lover after his death this summer – and the boss’s sons have refused to sign legal documents saying they will not contest his will.
M Richard ‘Dick’ Robinson Jr died unexpectedly on June 5 aged 84 after collapsing while on a walk in Martha’s Vineyard with one of his sons.
Upon his death it was revealed that Robinson shockingly left Scholastic Corp – which published popular children’s books such as Clifford The Big Red Dog, Captain Underpants and Magic Schoolbus – to Iole Lucchese, 55, Scholastic’s chair of the board, executive vice president and president of Scholastic Entertainment.
The owner of $1.2billion Scholastic Corp M Richard ‘Dick’ Robinson Jr (left) died suddenly at age 84 and – as a shock to his two sons and ex-wife – left the company to Iole Lucchese (right), a worker he was in a relationship with
John Benham ‘Ben’ Robinson, 34, declined to sign a document waiving his right to contest his late father’s will. He is a writer and operates a sawmill and workshop in Martha’s Vineyard, where he lives off the land and has continuously insisted that his father had all intentions of changing his 2018 will
Maurice ‘Reece’ Robinson (pictured), 25, is looking for ways to challenge Lucchese’s newfound fortune with his older brother. He works as a documentary filmmaker and said that in October, he asked Lucchese about his father’s ‘non-valuable mementoes’ but she has yet to agree to hand anything over
Lucchese and Robinson’s relationship was reportedly an open secret among staffers at the company and an anonymous source told People magazine that while Robinson’s own sons may have been shocked, the employees ‘all knew’.
Lucchese, 55, also inherited all of her lover’s personal possessions, which was not predicted by Robinson’s family but was ‘no surprise’ to company employees.
The will gave Lucchese sole discretion over how – or if – Robinson’s belongings should be distributed to the rest of his family. It said that she do so ‘with the request, but not the direction… as she believes to be in accordance with my wishes,’ as stated in the will.
Robinson’s family members – including his siblings, ex-wife Helen Benham and sons John Benham ‘Ben’ Robinson, 34, and Maurice ‘Reece’ Robinson, 25 – thought the longtime romantic relationship ended years ago.
Lucchese is now facing the possibility of a messy court battle as Ben and Reece look for ways to challenge her newfound fortune.
According to legal filings, Ben declined to sign a document waiving his right to contest his late father’s will, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
In response, Lucchese’s team sent Robinson’s eldest son a court summons in October.
Robinson’s ex-wife Helen Benham (pictured) has said she supports her sons in their legal battle against Lucchese
Robinson died suddenly and according to his will, which he wrote in 2018, Lucchese was named the sole beneficiary of 53.8 percent of the company’s Class A shares, which holds the voting power, as shown in a securities filing
On November 12, Ben and his younger brother Reece responded to the summons and asked New York’s Surrogate Court – which handles estate matters – for documents pertaining to their father’s will and the right to examine related witnesses.
The will was written in 2018 but Robinson’s family believes he was working on a new document at the time of his death, according to The Journal.
But Thomas Rice, a partner at the law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP who represents Scholastic, told The Journal that there is ‘no basis to believe a will contest will be successful’.
‘Creating legal delays and distractions isn’t in the best interest of Scholastic or its shareholders,’ he added, noting that Robinson’s intention when he completed his will was to ‘ensure the continued professional management of Scholastic in accordance with its independent legacy and educational mission’.
Anonymous sources close to the Robinson family told The Journal that the family is also interested in a pledge Robinson made years ago, where he promised to give voting shares to his sons in return for borrowing money from their mother – his ex-wife, Helen Benham.
Benham reportedly gave Robinson a $2million interest-free loan more than 10 years ago during the peak of a financial crisis due to a margin call – when an institution that has lent money for investments requires more cash to be added into the account to offset losses.
Banham’s financial adviser David Ferris recalled the time his client gave her former flame the seven-figure loan, even though the two were on bad terms: ‘Dick called in a panic and had no other options.’
Ferris said she gave him the money anyways to ensure ‘the Scholastic legacy would be inherited by Ben and Reece’.
‘He made a commitment,’ Benham told The Journal, clearly expecting her sons to receive a portion – if not all – of Robinson’s estate, which Ferris estimated to be worth nearly $100million.
Thomas Rice (pictured), a partner at the law firm Baker & McKenzie LLP who represents Scholastic, said that there is ‘no basis to believe a will contest will be successful’
Benham, who worked at Scholastic for more than 30 years, is supporting her son’s legal quest and said in an interview with The Journal that she still questions Lucchese’s control of her ex-husband’s company.
‘She’s sitting on top of a mountain of gold but the question is whether she’s got the gold,’ Benham said.
Ben and Reece have said that they agree with their mother’s view of Lucchese and are exploring their legal options. If they are successful in reaching their desired settlement, the Robinson brothers will shift voting power from Robinson’s former girlfriend to their family.
This would give the surviving Robinsons influence over everything at Scholastic – from making decisions on the company’s leadership to the transactions it would make.
If the will is fully thrown out in Surrogate’s Court Lucchese would still become the owner of Robinson’s underlying shares at Scholastic.
Meanwhile, Scholastic spokeswoman Anne Sparkman spoke highly of her now-boss Lucchese and told The Journal: ‘Iole is committed to doing what’s best for all stakeholders, including the Robinson family. She’s trying to work constructively with Mr Robinson’s sons.’
The company said Lucchese was not available for an interview.
The legal battle has proven Ben, Reece and Benham’s resistance to come to terms with Robinson’s relationship with Lucchese. They were clearly taken by surprise when Robinson’s will came to light and his intentions were unknown even to immediate family members.
According to The Journal, after Robinson’s sudden death his family was left stricken by grief, anger and fear for their future financial security.
Robinson’s will and revocable trust named Lucchese the sole beneficiary of 53.8 percent of the company’s Class A shares, which holds the voting power, as shown in a securities filing.
Thanks to the succession, Lucchese is arguably peaking in her career at Scholastic, whose directors named her board chair on July 18 alongside the company’s new chief executive Peter Warwick.
Warwick said in an email to The Journal that he has been working closely with Lucchese to ‘continue to grow and strengthen Scholastic for all of our stakeholders’ as the business looks to recover from the hit it took during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lucchese reportedly struggled to figure out how to handle staff vaccinations at Scholastic and told a friend that she would ‘hear Dick in my head now as I ponder,’ according to The Journal.
She said to her friend: ‘He was so clear about our path, our mission, what our primary directive was (and) he was at the same time, so clear in his directives around personal issues.’
According to The Journal, the company disputed the account.
However, sources from Scholastic revealed to The Journal that succession planning was a sensitive topic at the company for many years.
Former board members reportedly pushed Robinson to disclose his plans once he no longer headed the publisher or train someone to one day take his place but he consistently brushed them off.
Lucchese has been quiet about her plans to handle Robinson’s estate and it has added to the feud between the two parties, according to The Journal.
The Robinson brothers reportedly want more information because they’re afraid that after their father’s assets are sold to pay off a hefty estate-tax bill there may not be much – if anything – left over for them, people close to the family told the news source.
Robinson was the chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic. He is pictured in 2005 holding the first signed US edition of the book ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ during its unveiling in New York, Friday July 15, 2005
J.K. Rowling (L) and Richard Robinson attend HBO’s ‘Finding The Way Home’ World Premiere at Hudson Yards on December 11, 2019
Scholastic’s general counsel and co-executor of the estate Andrew Hedden refused to comment in an email to The Journal and wrote: ‘My focus there has to be on carrying out my attendant responsibilities, regardless of what others may publicly speculate.’
Although he refused to groom a fellow Scholastic employee to take his position, Robinson reportedly told former board member Ramon Cortines that his legal adviser, Hedden, would know what to do if he ever died, according to The Journal.
But Hedden affirmed in an email that he never knew what Robinson would do with his voting shares and said he ‘viewed that as a personal matter’.
Another company spokeswoman insisted that ‘Robinson amply provided for his family throughout his lifetime’ and appeared skeptical that the brothers were owed money.
‘We have no evidence that any commitment concerning the distribution of shares was ever made,’ the anonymous spokeswoman added.
After taxes on the estate and voting shares as well as executor feed that would be owed to Lucchese and Hedden, Ferris predicted that Ben and Reece could get less than $1million each.
The eldest Robinson brother Ben, 34, is a writer and operates a sawmill and workshop in Martha’s Vineyard. According to The Journal he lives off the land and has insisted in an interview that his father had all intentions of changing his 2018 will.
‘I know from conversations with him that he was working on a new draft but he was consumed with bringing Scholastic through Covid,’ Ben said, arguing that his claims could be supported by documents the family discovered in Robinson’s briefcase after he died.
Reece is a 25-year-old documentary filmmaker and said that in October, he asked Lucchese about his father’s ‘non-valuable mementoes’ but she has yet to agree to hand anything over.
People close to the family said that Robinson’s siblings do not want to challenge Lucchese’s inheritance.
Back in 2014, Robinson penned another will naming his sister Mary Sue Robinson Morrill the co-executor of his estate.
However, the request would be trumped by his 2018 will, which left his shares to Lucchese instead and named her co-executor of his private estate.
In the will, Robinson wrote that Lucchesse ‘is my partner and closest friend’.
Morrill confirmed Robinson’s former request in an email to The Journal and said he had asked her to serve as an executor ‘at some time in the past’ but claimed she never actually saw the estate-planning document.
Robinson also had two other sisters and a brother – Barbara Robinson Buckland, Florence (Dover) Robinson Ford and William (Bill) Robinson.
Back in July during a meeting with Robinson’s sons, Lucchese herself said she was shocked that Robinson left her his holdings. She even said she didn’t want the controlling shares, a source told The Journal.
Yet some of Robinson’s close friends have suggested that they’re skeptical that Lucchese wasn’t informed about her lover’s will, which left her so much power.
‘I remain in denial and still expect him to wander down the hall to my office,’ a grieving Lucchese told a friend, according to The Journal.
Scholastic Corp publishes popular children’s books like Clifford The Big Red Dog, Captain Underpants and Magic School Bus
Lucchese’s romance with her former boss began shortly after her career began at Scholastic. The daughter of Italian immigrants moved to Canada and joined the publishing company there in 1991 as an associate editor in book clubs.
As early as the late 1990s Scholastic staffers reportedly knew about the romance, although Robinson’s immediate family was left in the dark.
Sources close to the family told The Journal that they suspected Robinson was having an affair with Lucchese but he never acknowledged it.
Robinson and Benham divorced in 2003 and had a rocky relationship up until recently. Benham, who received their Martha’s Vineyard home in the divorce settlement, told The Journal earlier this year that she and her ex had grown closer again.
‘I lived and breathed Scholastic while also raising our two children,’ she said, adding: ‘Dick told me on more than one occasion: “You care more about Scholastic than I do.'”
But according to staffers at Scholastic, Robinson would often ask his assistants to help him buy luxury gifts for his lover. They told The Journal that Robinson had bought Lucchese a Prada purse and $500,000 pink diamond ring she wore for a while.
He also reportedly gifted her a black Porsche Cayennes and bought himself a matching one. The pair would also go on expensive vacations, including one to Hawaii.
Robinson also opened a TD Bank account in Canada and gave Lucchese access to the money in it. Property records showed he bought her an apartment in New York City, too, according to The Journal.