A Los Angeles County judge Monday scaled back a request by Walt Disney Co. to force its adversaries in the long-running Winnie the Pooh royalties case to pay the Burbank entertainment giant more than $1 million in court-related costs.
In a tentative ruling, Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl declined to grant the entire amount -- $1,083,057 -- that Disney was seeking from the heirs of Stephen Slesinger, who acquired the lucrative Pooh merchandising rights from author A.A. Milne in 1930.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 17, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 93 words Type of Material: Correction
Winnie the Pooh case -- An article in Tuesday's Business section reported that Walt Disney Co.'s adversaries in a long-running fight over Winnie the Pooh royalties would have to pay the company at least $250,000 in court costs. The minimum amount is actually $329,333. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn B. Kuhl also ruled that Disney may recover an additional $106,326 spent on graphic displays, subject to verification of invoices that Disney submitted Wednesday. Kuhl has yet to rule on whether Disney is owed an additional $111,661 spent on a discovery referee.
Disney, however, did not walk away from the hearing empty-handed. The Slesinger heirs will have to pay Disney at least $250,000.
Last year, the Slesingers lost the case that was filed in 1991 when a judge ruled that they had committed misconduct.
The Slesingers were accused of trying to gain an unfair advantage by hiring unsavory types to rifle through Disney's trash in search of documents related to Pooh.
The family has appealed that ruling.
However, state law allows the prevailing party in a lawsuit to recover certain court-related costs deemed "reasonable and necessary."
Kuhl rejected Disney's claims for about $525,000 that Disney spent on accounting experts who tried to determine whether the Slesinger family had been shortchanged tens of millions of dollars in royalties for Pooh merchandise.
In addition to the $250,000, Kuhl said she would continue to consider Disney's claims that it should recoup an additional $220,000 in expenses.
Nearly half of the $220,000 was spent on elaborate display panels that Disney had created for a court hearing last year. Disney's request for $106,326 for the exhibits was "very high," Kuhl said. She told Disney's attorneys to submit its invoices to justify that amount.
She also scoffed at Disney's demands for $8,097 for some more rudimentary displays that were used during an earlier accounting hearing. She subtracted $7,097 from Disney's request, saying, "My kids could have done that."
Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli said that although his children probably could have produced similar graphics on a spreadsheet, his computer skills weren't as sharp.
"So hire your kids next time," the judge said.