The Pooh Papers
DISNEY MOVES TO END POOH CASE, CHARGES MISCONDUCT
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 3, 2003 -- The Walt Disney Co. today asked a Superior Court Judge to hear evidence that Stephen Slesinger Inc.'s attorneys and principals stole documents, defied court orders, destroyed evidence and engaged in a pattern of "pervasive misconduct and illegal activities" as they sought royalty payments that are allegedly overdue during an 11-year battle with the studio, Disney's vice-president for corporate communications said Monday.
A press release John Sprelich faxed to news outlets said the studio is seeking an April 11 hearing on the issue. Sprelich did not return a call requesting comment. Calls to the Slesinger residence in Beverly Hills went unanswered.
The document was not available from the court. The press release was issued after court business had closed for the day. Asked in the courtroom to provide access to a copy of the Disney filing, Judge Ernest Hiroshige said, "That's not my job," and suggested a reporter return at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to see it.
At issue is a single page of correspondence from Disney executives that Slesinger sources have described as a "smoking gun" that will prove Disney knew all along that it was underpaying royalties on Winnie the Pooh which were due Stephen Slesinger Inc., based in Tampa, Fla. The widow and daughter of branding pioneer Stephen Slesinger brought the case in February 1991.
Sprelich's statement indicates that the company may have more evidence than the single letter, and says the company will not only seek to terminate proceedings in the case but to have sanctions - usually monetary fines but sometimes evidence sanctions that can cripple a case - against the plaintiffs, Shirley and Patricia Slesinger.
[The Los Angeles Times reported in Tuesday's editions that some 5,000 pages of legal documents obtained from Disney Dumpsters were turned over by the plaintiff's lawyers to Disney in October 2002.]
Harsh sanctions have been handed down by Hiroshige for some of the same reasons Disney now seeks them against the Slesingers, including the destruction of evidence and defiance of court orders regarding them. The sanctions have threatened to cripple Disney's case, the firm's attorney, Daniel J. Petrocelli, argued in court papers during an appeal of the sanctions that was denied by the State Supreme Court last year.
A private detective dug the controversial letter and other documents out of Disney's trash barrels, and the Slesingers hope it will show that Disney was destroying key evidence of fraud on the studio's part. A hearing on its admissibility has also been put off until April.