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News Flash: Massachusetts Appeals Court Delays Berkshire Museum Sales

Score one for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court tonight granted the preliminary injunction that she had sought in order to delay the controversial sales at Sotheby’s of works from the Berkshire Museum’s collection. The series of auctions containing the deaccessioned works was to have begun Monday with an American art sale that was to offer seven works (photos here) from the Pittsfield, MA, museum, including its two prize Norman Rockwells.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

Here’s the full text of Judge Joseph Trainor‘s injunction (linked above):

After reviewing the parties’ submissions, the request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendant, Trustees of the Berkshire Museum from selling, auctioning, or otherwise disposing of any of the artworks that have been listed for auction commencing on November 13, 2017, is allowed [emphasis added]. The balance of the risk of irreparable harm to the petitioner and the respondent in light of each party’s chance of success on the merits weighs in favor of the petitioner. Packaging Industries Group, Inc. v. Cheney, 380 Mass. 609, 615-617 (1980).

The injunction shall expire on December 11, 2017 [emphasis added]. Prior to the expiration of the injunction, the Attorney General’s Office may move to extend the injunction with a date certain by which the investigation will be completed. (Trainor, J.).

In other words, the judge bought the AG’s argument (as did I) that she required more time to complete a proper investigation. The injunction’s Dec. 11 expiration date appears to mean that other planned future sales of works from the museum, including the Nov. 14 Impressionist/Modern evening sale, the Nov. 15 Impressionist/Modern day sale and the Nov. 21 European art sale, are also on hold.

Credit for this (at least temporary) coup goes not only to the AG, but also to the lawyers for two sets of plaintiffs who started the legal ball rolling, and especially to the ad hoc Save the Art group, which kept up the pressure and mobilized the art-loving public.

Nicholas O’Donnell, lawyer for three of the plaintiffs, had this to say tonight:

My clients are pleased that the auction has been halted.  They remain alarmed at the Berkshire Museum’s treatment of its members and of the art that it holds in trust for the community. With the benefit of some breathing room and the continued investigation by the Attorney General, they are hopeful that reason will prevail.

Me too.

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