Judge backs NY public library in ruling on case of Ben Franklin manuscript
The daughter of a late Glen Head jewelry store proprietor can't use a statute-of-limitations argument in her battle with the New York Public Library over ownership of a Benjamin Franklin manuscript, a judge decided Thursday.
Margaret Tanchuck and the library are locked in a dispute about that artifact and seven historic Bibles she said she found in her father's shop after her parents' deaths. The Franklin ledger alone, which dates back to 1759, has an estimated value of more than $2 million.
Last summer, the library claimed ownership after an auction house noted the institution's call numbers on some of the books, and a library ownership stamp in one, records show.
Tanchuck doesn't know how her family acquired the items, but says her father told her around 1990 that he owned some extremely valuable books he kept in his store, according to court files.
A library attorney argued in July that the three-year clock on an ownership claim only started ticking last summer.
State Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bucaria agreed in his ruling.
"In view of the value and cultural significance of the property, the library's capacity as a public custodian, the strength of the library's title, and the vague and unspecified nature of Tanchuck's claim to title, it would be inequitable to permit Tanchuck to assert the statute of limitations," he wrote.
Bucaria ruled against the library's motion that Tanchuck, who is suing as executor of both her parents' estates and her father's trust, should have to file records showing exactly which of those parties had possessed the items.
Tanchuck's lawyers claim that under a legal doctrine known as laches, the library's lack of pursuing items the institution now claims were stolen between 1988 and 1991, means Tanchuck -- whose family had them for decades -- rightfully owns the texts.
But the library says there's no way Tanchuck, or whoever transferred the items to her parents, got them legitimately.
The U.S. attorney's office opened a grand jury probe concerning potential criminal activity relating to theft of cultural heritage objects, and possible concealment of them with knowledge they were stolen, after the library told the agency about the matter following contact with the auctioneer.
Tanchuck's attorneys say the library tried to gain an advantage in the matter by threatening a criminal probe, and that she had raised no objection to the library being told about a potential auction of the rare texts.
"The library continues to look forward to the rightful return of the items to the library where they will be available to the public," library spokeswoman Amy Geduldig said Thursday.
Tanchuck's attorney, Amy Marion, said she was pleased "strong claims in the case remain."
"We look forward to litigating this case and are confident that at the end of the day these valuable items are better off in the hands of our client than in the hands of the public library. . . . What kind of public custodian loses a national treasure for 30 years and doesn't even know it's missing?"
The case will continue in state Supreme Court in Nassau County.