Hoefler & Frere-Jones go head-to-head in $20m legal battle

Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones of US type foundry Hoefler & Frere Jones are embroiled in a $20 million (£12 million) legal battle over the ownership of the company.

The Supreme Court of the State of New York

Source: Jeffrey Zeldman

The Supreme Court of the State of New York

Frere-Jones has filed a lawsuit which claims Hoefler promised him a 50 per cent stake in the company – which he then failed to deliver. Frere-Jones is now suing Hoefler for damages of $20 million.

The claim – made to the Supreme Court of the State of New York – sees Hoefler accused of ‘the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence’.

Frere-Jones claims that he and Hoefler made a verbal agreement in 1999 to become equal partners in a new type foundry. At the time Hoefler owned and ran the Hoefler Type Foundry and Frere-Jones was working at Boston-based Font Bureau.

The pair were competitors who became collaborators and then ‘close friends’, the claim says.

As part of the proposal, the claim says Frere-Jones brought a series of fonts to the new company, including Whitney.

In 2004 – the claim details – ownership of Whitney and a number of other Frere-Jones-designed fonts was transferred to HFJ for a nominal fee of $10 (£6). Frere-Jones claims the royalty value of these fonts was in excess of $3 million (£1.8 million).

Frere-Jones says he then repeatedly asked Hoefler to transfer half of the ownership of the company to him. At one stage, he alleges, Hoefler responded by saying, ‘Stop it. I’m working on it. Stop harassing me.’

In October 2013, the claim details, Hoefler then transferred HFJ shares to his wife Borsella, making the couple 100 per cent owners of the company.

Frere-Jones is now suing Hoefler ‘not less than $20 million’ and is bringing claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, declaration of constructive trust, unjust enrichment, and fraud.

The claim, which can be seen here, was filed at Supreme Court of the State of New York by lawyers Hoguet Newman Regal and Kenney on 16 January.

• Update: Hoefler & Frere-Jones has released a statement saying that Frere-Jones has left the company, which will now be known as Hoefler & Co.

The statement reads, ‘Following his departure, Tobias [Frere-Jones] filed a claim against company founder Jonathan Hoefler. Its allegations are not the facts, and they profoundly misrepresent Tobias’s relationship with both the company and Jonathan.

‘Whether as The Hoefler Type Foundry, Hoefler & Frere-Jones, or Hoefler & Co., our company has always been a great place for designers, which is why it’s always been and will continue to be a great place for design.

‘It goes without saying that all of us are disappointed by Tobias’s actions. The company will vigorously defend itself against these allegations, which are false and without legal merit.’

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