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Chapman University settles lawsuit with wealthy O.C. donors

James and Catherine Emmi, who sued to recoup a $12-million gift, strike a new deal with Chapman University

A Corona del Mar couple who accused Chapman University officials of manipulating them into a $12-million donation will drop their lawsuit against the college, according to a joint announcement.

Instead of suing to recoup their gift, James and Catherine Emmi have agreed to a "restructuring of previously donated funds" to create a scholarship program for science, technology, engineering and math students, according to the statement distributed by Chapman.

Neither the Emmis nor the university released details of the agreement, but Chapman spokeswoman Mary Platt said it effectively ended the litigation that accused the private college in Orange of taking advantage of 98-year-old James Emmi's age to secure the donation.

The Emmis' lawyer, Jim Bohm, said they were "happy that this is behind them and are still supporters of Chapman."

The restructured donation will fund "James and Catherine Emmi Scholars," according to the college.

"Highly qualified students will be able to apply for scholarship consideration and use that financial support to pursue their studies at Chapman University," the announcement said.

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

The Emmis are well-known philanthropists who have given millions to Orange County institutions such as Hoag Hospital and the Pacific Symphony.

According to court documents, the $12-million donation to Chapman represented about 60% of James Emmi's estate.

The amount Chapman now will receive is unclear.

According to the lawsuit, filed this month, the Emmis gave Chapman about half a million dollars in 2009 to help build a science building. In 2013, they gave the additional $12 million to fund construction of an "Emmi Hall" as part of a planned science center, the lawsuit said.

However, the couple contended that they had no memory of signing a document pledging the money as an irrevocable gift.

Their lawsuit alleged that Chapman hounded them for donations because James Emmi was "susceptible to inducement and confusion."

"President Doti intentionally showered the Emmis with compliments and even went as far as requesting a photograph of James to place in his office because James was 'like a brother to him,'" the court filing said.

The suit also accused Chapman of reneging on terms of the donation by passing over the Emmis for recognition in favor of other donors and appearing to lag on a 2016 deadline to complete Emmi Hall.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

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