Mouse looses cheese over sports complex

Disney ordered to pay $240 mil over alleged stolen idea

A Florida jury has ordered the Walt Disney Co. to pay $240 million to a former baseball umpire and an architect, who claimed the media and entertainment giant stole their idea for an Orlando sports complex that’s spring-training home to the Atlanta Braves.

Opened in 1997, Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex also houses tennis courts, a soccer field and other athletic facilities, drawing crowds of 1.2 million people a year. Former minor-league umpire Nicholas Stracick of Buffalo, N.Y., and architect Edward Russell of Fonthill, Ont. — filing in Orange County Circuit Court as All Pro Sports Camps — claimed they came up with the idea for the complex and pitched it to Disney in 1987.

The plaintiffs were represented by Stuart, Fla., attorney Willie Gary, who was assisted by high-profile Los Angeles attorney Johnnie Cochran. All Pro had asked for $1.6 billion in damages, and because Disney was found to have acted with malicious intent, a judge still could increase the amount awarded by the jury.

Disney executive vice president and general counsel Lou Meisinger said the decision was without merit and a motion to vacate the jury’s verdict and monetary award will be filed within 10 days. He noted that the contention that the Burbank-based conglom had stolen the actual design was dismissed during the trial.

This verdict is “entirely based on the notion that Disney misappropriated the concept for this sports complex,” Meisinger said. “The idea that Disney, a world leader in innovation, would have to borrow a generic idea like a sports complex — an idea that has been around since the ancient Greeks — is completely preposterous.”

Prejudicial evidence claimed

Disney will argue that the jury’s verdict, delivered Friday after 12 hours of deliberations, went against the weight of evidence. It will also contend that prejudicial evidence was allowed into the case, Meisinger said. “If necessary, we will exercise the full measure of our appellate remedies,” he said.

Attorney Gary described Disney’s reaction to the verdict as “sour grapes.” He added: “It’s the normal stuff you say when you take a beating. They’re crybabies.”

Also Friday, Disney was sued in U.S. District Court in New York by Indian media group L.K. Modi, which contends that Disney’s ESPN reneged on a 1994 agreement to partner on a cable sports channel in India.

Last month, Disney was sued over allegations that its theme parks and cruise ships fail to meet federal disabled-access standards.