American Reporter Staff
September 20, 2002
EDITOR TO BE SUBPOENAED IN POOH CASE, DISNEY SAYS
HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 20, 2002 -- Joe Shea, the Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter who broke most of the major stories in the epic struggle betwen the Walt Disney Co. and Stephen Slesinger Inc. over rights to Winnie the Pooh, will be subpoenaed to provide a deposition by the Walt Disney Co., a Disney lawyer said Thursday, bringing to two the number of journalists the company has embroiled in the long-running and complex case.
Ralph J. Shapira, a partner at O'Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles, called this newspaper today seeking a "friendly interview," as he termed it, and when the editor declined, Shapira said Shea and his wife would both be subpoenaed to provide depositions in the case concerning files of interest to the studio that had gone missing from a "shared space."
Shapira told Shea the studio was aware of a "falling-out" between Shea and the plaintiffs over the firing of his wife, a housekeeper, and after receiving an internal notice that the two would be called for depositions, said he thought that a "friendly interview" might be a better approach.
Shea said he told Shapira he would rather not go beyond his stories on the case. Shea was formerly an editor of an annual guidebook partly owned by a plaintiff in the case, Patricia Slesinger, but usually worked out of his home on the projects.
Shapira said the deposition would not address issues covered in the large number of news stories that collectively are called "The Pooh Papers" and appear exclusively in The American Reporter and the Sebastopol, Calif.-based Albion Monitor. Instead, Shapira said, the deposition will seek information about "missing files" that the studio says were located in offices where Shea "shared space" with the plaintiff in the case, Stephen Slesinger, Inc.
"This interview will not be about your news stories," Shapira told him, Shea said.
Shea spoke often with the key figure in the case, Patricia Slesinger, in 1983, when the two were publishing the first edition of the Beverly Hills GOLDBOOK from an office at 415 N. Camden Drive. Shea discussed her meetings with Vince Jefferds, a Disney official, with him, and he was privy to correspondence with her mother about those meetings, he said.
He declined to say whose account of the meetings - Slesinger's or Disney's - was borne out by his recollection.
The studio is suing Hollywood journalist Nikke Finke, who currently writes for the L.A. Weekly, for stories about the Pooh case she contributed as a freelancer for the New York Post and were similar to reports that first appeared in The American Reporter. When Finke was fired by the Post, owned by sometime Disney partner Rupert Murdoch, she hired noted entertainment lawyer Pierce O'Donnell and sued the studio for $10 million.
"I feel that Disney is trying to build a case around issues that divert attention from thetrial judge's findings in the case," Shea said. "Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige has said Disney destroyed evidence and therefore cannot argue that the evidence was not as the plaintiffs assert. That means they basically have no factual case, so they have to go after the people who tell the public about their bad behavior. It makes no sense to me, but I'm not a lawyer," said Shea.
The American Reporter was a party to a lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles Times last November that got most of the voluminous case opened to the public after 11 years of secrecy.
Shea said he would not be cowed by the studio's tactics. He pointed out that he was affirmed in a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case after three federal judges in Mahattan, acting on Shea's 1996 complaint, declared certain provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Deregulation Act unconstitutional. The government appealed the decision.
Those provisions would have allowed the government to impose $200,000 fines and jail terms for "indecent" speech on the Internet. Chief Justice Rehnquist and two other Associate Justices queried lawyers about the separate New York case during oral arguments on a consolidated case brought by ther ACLU. Shea's attorney in that matter, Randall Boe, is now Senior Vice President and General Counsel of AOL.
"I started reporting on the courts for the Dow Jones-Ottaway Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y. in 1969. I have a lot of faith in the law," he said, "and to date the law is against Disney. They will find a viper under the stones they pick up to throw at me," he said.
Under the provisions of California's "shield" law, the studio may not probe for the sources of stories Shea wrote. Under the law, journalists cannot be compelled to reveal their sources unless criminal intent is shown, as occurred in a recent Ohio case where a reporter for the Cincinnati Inquirer obtained internal memoranda stolen from United Fruit Co. and wrote about them.
Shea said Shapira's remarks about "missing" files seemed to suggest something like that, but was sufficiently vague as to leave his true purpose unknown.
Shea said he had never obtained any documents related to the case from anyone over the entire 11-year lifespan of the case until 40 boxes of them were released by the court last February, and out of those a single box of papers was mailed to Shea's attorney by Disney's lawyers. The attorney gave him that box of papers, he said.
The famed editor, rated one of the Net's "50 Most Influential" in 2000 and the founder of the first daily newspaper with original content to start on the Internet, said the planned subpoena of his wife is is "absurd on a cosmic scale."
Shea said he plans to seek advice from the California First Amendment Coalition, which assists journalists in First Amendment cases.