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Disney Targets Trash in Pooh Hearing

February 26, 2004|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

The man who tipped Walt Disney Co. that documents related to the lawsuit over Winnie the Pooh royalties were being stolen said he helped retrieve some of those papers from the company's trash, but he lied about actually breaking into the entertainment giant's offices, according to taped testimony played in court Wednesday.

Richard Dale Holman, in testimony videotaped in November 2002, admitted he was lying when he told Disney security officials a decade ago about stealing documents from the desks of company executives. Holman testified that he and his friend, Terry Lee Sands, never stole anything from inside Disney offices.

"That was a lie," Holman said on the videotape that Disney attorneys played Wednesday for Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy.

"I was just trying to get Terry into trouble," Holman said on the tape. "I was a drug addict. I was like strung out on speed for two years."

The tape was played in the second day of testimony in a weeklong hearing that Disney is hoping will lead to the dismissal of the 13-year-old breach-of-contract lawsuit over Winnie the Pooh royalties.

Shirley Slesinger Lasswell and her daughter, Patricia Slesinger, sued in 1991, alleging Disney had cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from Winnie the Pooh computer software, videocassettes, DVDs and other merchandise.

Stephen Slesinger, a New York literary agent, acquired the merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh in 1930 from A.A. Milne, who wrote the children's stories. Slesinger died in 1953, and his widow, Lasswell, transferred the rights to Disney in 1961.

Disney's legal team is focusing this week on undermining the credibility of key witnesses, including Patricia Slesinger; her husband, David Bentson; and Sands, the man Bentson hired to dig through Disney's trash.

Disney maintains that Sands, along with Holman and occasionally Holman's son, trespassed on Disney property to fish Winnie the Pooh documents out of trash bins. Disney's attorneys also suggested that Sands broke into a Canoga Park garbage disposal facility to steal Pooh documents.

Sands testified Wednesday that he rummaged through the garbage behind one Disney building in Burbank because that was the only location with publicly accessible trash bins. But Holman and his son, during their videotaped testimony, painted a different picture. They described visits to three different locations, including the Canoga Park site.

Attorneys representing the Slesingers downplayed Disney's strategy.

"They're trying to make something out of what we feel are legitimate searches for documents in Dumpsters," said Patrick Cathcart, one of the Slesingers' lawyers. "They're trying to get back the disadvantage they suffered when they were sanctioned for destroying documents," he said, referring to a case two years ago in which the company was sanctioned by a judge.

Much is at stake for Disney in the suit: The company has said that losing the case could cost it hundreds of millions of dollars. If the judge refuses to dismiss the suit, a trial could begin in January 2005.

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