Disney bows out of mediation conference

Rhetoric between the Slesinger family and Disney heated up again Monday after reps for the Slesingers issued a statement that Disney had “cancel(ed) a mediation conference in federal court” in the Slesingers’ suit over Winnie the Pooh royalties.

The Mouse House immediately responded by declaring that, like any party in a lawsuit, it had no legal obligation to settle or attend a settlement meeting.

“The release is highly inaccurate. It’s a mystery to me why they put it out there,” Disney outside counsel Daniel Petrocelli said in an interview.

The settlement meeting, which had been called for March 29, is a voluntary process; the federal magistrate who had scheduled it left it open to both parties to determine whether they wanted to be involved.

Petrocelli said Disney had originally planned on attending, to consider settlement offers, but changed its mind once it began to hear, via the courts, some of the Slesinger demands.

The company then sent a letter to the magistrate saying that it didn’t think talks would be meaningful.

Disney rebutted the Slesinger claim in the statement that the company reversed course because the presence of a company director was required at the meeting; Petrocelli said no such requirement exists.

Slesinger reps said they had been drafting settlement offers for months under the impression that Disney was looking to put the suit — which has been going for more than 15 years — behind it.

“We believe their actions were abrupt and that they walked away from the table in bad faith,” said Lonnie Soury, a spokesman for the Slesinger family.

The Slesingers, which license Winnie the Pooh to Disney, first sued the Mouse House in 1991 over global royalties from the children’s book character. Disney had paid the Slesingers well over $100 million in royalties since the deal was revised in 1983, but the Slesingers say the property has been undervalued and that the family is owed more.

The Slesingers have been hit by several unfavorable rulings in L.A. Superior Court; in 2004, a judge threw out the case in a harshly worded ruling.

The family appealed, and the parties are awaiting a date for oral arguments in that appeal; briefs have already been filed.

The Slesingers have retained several rounds of lawyers over the course of the case but recently brought on noted attorney Barry Slotnick, giving added juice to the suit.

The two sides are also battling in federal court, with Slesinger making claims over royalties there as well. But a judge has ruled that the federal case cannot go forward until the state appeals court has issued a ruling because of a stipulation the parties made.

On Monday, Slesinger reps said they hoped to pursue the federal case even as the state appeal was pending.

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