Herbert H. Haft's son Robert sued his father just two months before the 84-year-old discount retailer died, claiming that he was owed $2 million for helping to mediate one of the family's many disputes during the 1990s.
Herbert Haft, who died Wednesday at Sibley Memorial Hospital, never got formal notice of the suit. Robert Haft filed court papers in late August asking for more time to make the notification, saying it was "outside of the bounds of basic human decency" to serve the legal papers while his father was in an intensive care unit.
Although he was not officially served, the elder Haft did know about the lawsuit, said Mark Lynch, an attorney for the elder Haft's estate and his widow, Myrna Haft, who married Herbert Haft at the hospital on Aug. 18.
"We're investigating whether it has any merit," Lynch said of the lawsuit yesterday. "It's regrettable that litigation between the family continued up to the day Herb died."
Robert Haft's July 2 lawsuit, accusing his father of failing to pay $2 million that was due June 1, is another chapter in the bitter and public feud that ripped the family apart during the 1990s and led to the disintegration of the business empire.
In talking about his father's life and death last week, Robert Haft said he and his two siblings had visited their father at the hospital and begun to reconcile. He said he was not aware of his father's marriage to his longtime companion, Myrna C. Ruben.
Neither he nor his attorney would comment on the lawsuit.
The family battle began in 1993 when Herbert abruptly fired Robert from the family business. The family strife continued for years; Herbert and Gloria Haft were divorced and Herbert was estranged from his three children. Meanwhile, parts of the business empire that once included Dart Drug, Crown Books, Trak Auto, Total Beverage, Shoppers Food Warehouse and Combined Properties were sold or went into bankruptcy.
According to the latest lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, Herbert Haft presented his son with a $2 million promissory note in 1999 after Robert helped renegotiate a property settlement with Gloria Haft.
Under the 1994 divorce settlement, Haft was to pay his former wife more than $50 million over several years.
In 1999, Herbert Haft was in default on some obligations and "was unable or unwilling to make the required payments," the lawsuit says.
Herbert asked for his son's help to renegotiate the agreement, the lawsuit says. "Because [Robert] had other business opportunities which required his effort and attention, he would not assist" unless the father agreed to compensate him, the lawsuit says. Herbert Haft agreed to pay "a substantial success payment," it adds.
When the agreement was renegotiated, the elder Haft presented his son with a $2 million promissory note due June 1, 2004. On that date, Robert made a "written demand" for the money, but Haft refused to pay, the lawsuit says.
Under court rules, Robert Haft had 60 days to serve his father with a copy of the lawsuit. On Aug. 23, his attorneys filed a request for a new deadline of Dec. 29. The court papers say that Robert Haft did not want to serve his father with the suit while he was in "a weakened condition" and that he wanted to wait until he was out of intensive care.
With Herbert Haft's death, the lawsuit "becomes a claim against the estate," said Washington lawyer Kenneth J. Loewinger.
If the personal representative in charge of the estate denies the claim, Robert Haft can go to court, he said, adding, "This will be another chapter in the long and sad history of the Haft family."
Staff writer Henri E. Cauvin contributed to this report.