Glenn says his suits are attempts to collect debts and recoup losses from former business partners and commodities brokers who have cheated him.
"I've been too trusting," Glenn said. "If I liked the cut of a guy's jib, and he had an idea that sounded reasonable, I would back him. Why do they steal the money? Because they can. They're looking for people who trust them."
Some targets of Glenn's lawsuits, however, describe him as mercurial and quick to litigate. Robert R. Horton, chairman and chief executive of Alchemix Corp., an Arizona company specializing in low-polluting energy technologies, said he was sued by Glenn after a $40-million clean-coal venture in Pennsylvania failed. The case is scheduled to go to trial next month.
"If things don't work out as well as they might, he becomes litigious," Horton said.
"I would say that our experience was that we saw him as an angel in our venture and when we were unable to make it work, we found that [he] wasn't all angelic."
Glenn said the coal venture with Horton turned out to be "a clear case of fraud."
One of Glenn's oldest friends, Daniel L. Ritchie, chancellor of the University of Denver, called him a philanthropist with exacting standards. "He doesn't throw money away," said Ritchie, who noted that his university has not received any donations from Glenn and that he doesn't anticipate any.
"He is a very scrupulously honest person who expects the same of other folks," added Ritchie, who used Glenn as his commodities broker in the late 1950s. "When they don't live up to that, he probably feels that he has an obligation to do his part to encourage them to do the right thing."
No trial date has been set for Glenn's case against USC, which, in addition to seeking damages, seeks to force the university to transfer the donation to another research institution.
For now, researchers involved remain undeterred. Longo, the current holder of the Glenn chair and an assistant professor at USC, said university officials "haven't told me anything" about the dispute other than that a lawsuit was filed. Longo led a research team that discovered how the chief molecular villain of Alzheimer's disease kills nerve cells, and it identified two drugs that combat the process.
"Thanks to the Glenn Foundation, we've published some important research," Longo said.