The bitter family feud over the multibillion-dollar Rollins fortune, in which four siblings sued their father and uncle, came to an end Tuesday in a Fulton County courtroom.
The agreement was reached just minutes before closing arguments were to be given to a jury that had heard testimony over the past two weeks. The confidential settlement was also reached after nine years of litigation that produced thousands of pages of court documents and was overseen by three different trial judges.
After Fulton Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe approved the settlement, the four siblings walked across the courtroom — where they’d sat for days as plaintiffs on one side — to reach their father and uncle, who sat as defendants on the other side. In tears, they each hugged their father and uncle in long embraces, perhaps a sign of healing for a well-known Atlanta family torn apart by accusations of greed and betrayal.
The lawsuit was filed by four adult grandchildren of O. Wayne Rollins, the visionary businessman who founded Atlanta-based Rollins Inc. and controlled Orkin Exterminating Co. and other businesses. By the time the 79-year-old Rollins died in 1991, he had created an empire that grew to be worth an estimated $8 billion.
In 2010, the four grandchildren — Glen Rollins, Ellen Rollins, Nancy Rollins and O. Wayne Rollins II — sued their father, Gary Rollins, who is Rollins’ CEO, and their uncle, Randall Rollins, the company’s chairman.
The Rollins siblings contended Gary and Randall Rollins abused their control over the four trusts set up in their names by their grandfather, which are worth an estimated $1.5 billion.
In doing so, Gary and Randall Rollins set up a phony distribution scheme, locked up the assets and unilaterally changed the rules as to how the funds were to be passed down, Mickey Mixson, lead attorney for the four siblings, told jurors in an opening statement on Nov. 5.
The father and uncle also enforced a code of conduct governing the siblings’ behavior, he said.
“It not only told them what they had to do to get money, it told them how to raise their children,” Mixson said. “It authorized Gary and Randall to spy on them with detectives.”
Why did they do this? Mixson asked. “Gary and Randall wanted to control it forever. And they tried to undo what O. Wayne Rollins had done.”
In 2010, Gary and Randall Rollins approached the four siblings and asked them to sign away their trust assets, Mixson said. When they refused to explain why, the siblings became suspicious and demanded information, the lawyer said.
That led to the filing of the lawsuit, and since then the siblings have received no income from the trusts, Mixson said.
In response, attorney Jim Lamberth, who represents Gary and Randall Rollins, told jurors his clients did nothing wrong.
“Whenever Gary and Randall made the decisions their father trusted them to make, they thought about their father,” Lamberth said. “They thought about what he would want them to do.”
O. Wayne Rollins began talking to his two sons about the distribution of his fortune in the 1970s. He told them he wanted his grandchildren to lead meaningful and productive lives and not squander the family fortune, Lamberth said.
“Mr. Rollins was afraid of the destructive effect that unearthed wealth, inherited wealth can have on people,” the lawyer said.
He noted that Glen Rollins, the former CEO of Orkin, was a profligate spender. He paid $13 million for a Buckhead estate called Boxwood and, in 2008, he and his then-wife Danielle charged more than $8 million on their American Express cards, Lamberth noted. The couple’s marriage ended in a bitter divorce after Glen Rollins admitted to sleeping with dozens of prostitutes and also accused his ex-wife of removing items from Boxwood that weren’t hers.
Since turning 21, the four siblings have received millions of dollars from the family fortune, including more than $34 million when they decided to participate in the program set up by their father and their uncle, Lamberth said.
But that wasn’t enough, he said. “They decided it was better to break up the family and sue Gary and Randall to try and get huge amounts of cash from their interest in the Rollins family entities, something that was never supposed to happen under their grandfather’s plan.”
In his opening, Mixson told jurors that he would be asking them to award $268 million in damages to the four siblings at the end of the trial. But that never happened because of the settlement, which has been placed under seal.
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