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Court Referee Corrects Date in Disney-Katzenberg Ruling

May 21, 1999|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One day after he ruled that Walt Disney Co. breached former studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg's contract in 1994, the court referee overseeing the case changed his mind and said it really happened in 1996.

Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul G. Breckenridge Jr. notified both sides Thursday that he mistakenly wrote in his opinion the wrong date on which Disney breached Katzenberg's contract by failing to pay him a special lump-sum bonus the executive expected to receive when he left the company. Breckenridge corrected the date to Oct. 1, 1996.

Both sides in the case said they were not surprised by the reversal. They had been taken aback Wednesday when Breckenridge listed 1994 as the year, since Disney wasn't obligated to pay Katzenberg the bonus until 1996, two years after he left the company in a falling-out with Chairman Michael Eisner.

Holding Disney responsible to 1994 could have resulted in an unexpected windfall for Katzenberg of millions of dollars in additional interest payments.

Breckenridge ruled that Disney owes Katzenberg interest on bonus money that was withheld from him, although he has yet to specify the date from which Katzenberg should start earning it.

Katzenberg sued Disney in 1996 for more than $250 million, alleging that Disney reneged on a contract promising him the special bonus upon leaving.

The two sides reached a partial settlement in 1997, with Disney paying him $117 million. They agreed to a second phase being conducted now by Breckenridge to determine exactly how much Katzenberg deserves.

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