Judge sends ‘Rings’ case to jury

Tolkien heirs continue suit against New Line

A state court judge has ruled — for now — that a jury should decide on the claims in the suit by heirs of “Lord of the Rings” creator J.R.R. Tolkien against New Line Cinema over profits from the “Rings” film trilogy.

In a ruling Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones turned down a defense motion that she, instead of a jury, should consider the lawsuit’s claims. She also denied a defense motion asking that she hear and decide some of the claims before letting the rest go before a jury, noting that said she did not want witnesses to be called twice.

Bonnie E. Eskenazi, an attorney for the Tolkien trust, told Daily Variety that the rulings mean the case remains on track to go to trial Oct. 19.

However, Jones also said Tuesday during the hearing she could still split the trial into two phases if persuaded to do so by defense lawyers. In response, New Line said in a statement it was “encouraged” that the judge would reconsider the motion at a later date and “may well” decide that many if not most issues are more appropriately resolved by the court rather than a jury.

“There is little significance to the fact that the court was merely not prepared to make this ruling now, before discovery has been completed,” New Line also said. “What is important is that the court denied the motion ‘without prejudice’ — meaning we can refile it any time. We absolutely intend to refile the motion at the appropriate time.”

The Tolkien Trust filed the suit in February 2008, alleging New Line had failed to pay at least $220 million to members of the trust. The plaintiffs have asserted that under a 1969 contract, the trust and other plaintiffs are entitled to 7.5% of gross receipts from the films and related products, minus certain costs.

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