Chapman University Settles Donation Dispute with 98-year-old Philanthropist and His Wife

UPDATE NO. 2, FEB. 26, 9:03 A.M.: Chapman University and a Corona del Mar philanthropist and his wife have settled their dispute over a $12 million donation to the private institution in Orange, and they have issued the joint statement that follows that will be their only comment on the matter.


James and Catherine Emmi and Chapman University today [Wednesday] announced a restructuring of previously donated funds toward a new scholarship program for outstanding students studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at Chapman University.

The new fund will support “James and Catherine Emmi Scholars.” Highly qualified students will be able to apply for scholarship consideration and use that financial support to pursue their studies at Chapman University.

“Our intent with every donor is to help them achieve their personal legacy objectives,” said James L. Doti, president of Chapman University. “After learning of Mr. and Mrs. Emmi's goals, we worked to address their desire to direct their gift into an endowed scholarship fund.”

“We anticipate the Emmi Scholars will become extraordinary leaders and contributors in their future careers. I am pleased that Chapman University is able to honor the legacy of Jim and Catherine Emmi by educating well prepared students who will make our community and our world a better place.”

UPDATE NO. 1, FEB. 18, 6:30 A.M.: A supporter of Chapman University President James Doti in attendance in December 2013 when a Corona del Mar philanthropist and his wife were celebrated for their $12 million donation to the private institution in Orange vehemently denies the claims in a $15 million lawsuit filed against the university by the elderly couple.

William Chiles, who besides being a “Chapman supporter” identifies himself as an “author, Fortune 500 speaker, disabled veteran and Purple Heart Fleet Marine Forces, Vietnam” veteran, has also applied a label to OC Weekly and Orange County Register coverage of the suit brought by 84-year-old Catherine and 98-year-old James Emmi: “Chapman libel.” He explains below …


As the several hundred witnesses who were present shall attest (including me and my wife, Sandra), when the details of Jim Emmi's “gift” were announced to the world, in his, and his wife and son's very 'happy and lucid' presence, and as we all patted James on the back and shook his arm-out-of-the-socket, the only “preying” that can be attributed to Dr. Jim Doti, was the homonym, one of “non-denominational thanks.” As for James and the business of philanthropy: that rule-in-the-heavens is “no cold feet allowed” … lest the term become an oxymoron. After meeting the self-made man, and looking him square in the eye that night, I doubt seriously if he is the 98-year-old we would be led to believe, who is now whining about being down to his last $8 million. That gripe usually stems from the shadows and concerns over a will.

If there be a champion of truth left, in this age of gossip and journalistic sensationalism, an interview of Chapman's other philanthropists will reveal, first hand to you, that Jim Doti has never pressured anyone. “Enthusiasm” is not “pressure,” and that is what has been misinterpreted. I suggest you begin your interviews with other Chapman philanthropists such as Paul and Marybelle Musco. Placido Domingo thought enough of Paul's gift to Chapman, to fly out, roll up his sleeves and shovel the first load of dirt with us … for Musco's $78 million Chapman Center for the Performing Arts. Ask Paul and the other seven and eight figure supporters if Jim ever “pressured” them for anything … more than a smile and a handshake of celebration.

“”Pressue?” The only thing Jim Doti can be accused of is his voluminous excitement … over the best thing in higher education that has ever happened to Southern California, if not our nation. As for the money involved in philanthropic acts, anyone in this day and age knows, the real suspicion lies with the lawyers (pardon the pun).

We're not talking about the funding a casino here people, this is all about the legacy of our next generation. Jim Doti is the steward of that legacy and he knows it, with every fiber of his excited being. Like the men I served with who died in combat, Jim Doti is a rare one-of-the-few-and-proud. A sincere humanitarian with a vision for our children and their future. MY “prayer” is that it won't now all become tarnished. And at the risk of being accused of “praying,” I ask that all who have ever seen the dream and supported the vision of Chapman, including its graduates and students, now rally around their president.


-William Chiles

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 11, 6:33 A.M.: The suit filed by Catherine and James Emmi in Orange County Superior Court alleges breach of contract, fraud, deceit and elder abuse by the university–and accuses Doti of putting undue pressure on Mr. Emmi to sign an irrevocable contract without the consent of his wife, reports the Orange County Register.

“Chapman University is deeply saddened by the misstatements in the complaint filed by the Emmis,” says Chapman spokeswoman Mary Platt in a statement. “Mr. James Emmi has been a close friend of both President James Doti and the university. The allegations do not reflect what occurred and completely mischaracterize the Emmis' interactions with the university.”

During the university's “Christmas at the Ritz” event in Newport Beach on Dec. 7, 2013, Doti announced the couple had made a “transformational gift” to support Chapman's expansion in the sciences. The exact amount of the gift was not disclosed at the time but was said to be in excess of $10 million.

The suit pegs the total pledge at $12 million, claiming $3 million of that has been paid. The Emmis are seeking the cancellation of the remaining $9 million of the pledge, the return of the $3 million and an additional $3 million in damages.

But the Emmis and Doti were all smiles at that Ritz Restaurant event held by the Women of Chapman support group, of which Catherine was a member.

“I can't think of two people who are more committed to science and education, in all the varied facets of those fields,” Doti told the crowd that night.

“Jim Emmi's passion for science and technology, and for engineering, in particular, inspired him to make this gift that will have an impact on so many students. Catherine is an educator through and through, and she understands the vital importance of the sciences in today's higher education. Together, their vision and generosity will leave a lasting legacy that will benefit so many people-including the citizens of Orange County and the world who will gain from the knowledge and discoveries made by our researchers, students and alumni.”

Emmi, the retired president of Kimberly Development Co. and a longtime manager of apartment properties in Orange County, reportedly alleges in the suit that he rebuffed Chapman officials who originally sought a $5 million donation but that they continued to “prey” on him knowing that he was “more susceptible to inducement and confusion.”

“They really confused him and they pressured him,” said James Bohm, the Emmis' attorney, to the Register, which was denied a request to speak with Emmi directly. “They wined and dined him, and they took advantage of his advanced age.”

The Emmis' pledge was to go toward construction of an engineering building that is scheduled to break ground in 2017 and open in 2018, according to university officials.

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *