Pooh preps for court date

Slesinger-Disney trial set for 2003

The long-running Winnie the Pooh case drew closer to its end Wednesday when a state court judge set a trial date of Feb. 5.

The 12-year-old case pits Stephen Slesinger Inc., the company that holds the bulk of North American rights to A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh,” against the Walt Disney Co., which has been licensing the Pooh characters since the 1960s. The Slesinger family contends they were shortchanged on royalties on items such as stuffed animals.

They also claim they should have received royalties on videocassettes and computer games, which Disney denies.

Exactly how much money is at stake is unclear, but Pooh is one of Disney’s most lucrative properties, and the disputed amount is claimed to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Slesingers are represented by Bert Fields and Bonnie Eskenazi, who last butted heads with Disney when they represented Jeffrey Katzenberg in his breach of contract suit.

Upping the ante even further, the Slesingers maintain that if they are victorious at trial, they have the right to terminate Disney’s license. Disney attorney Dan Petrocelli vigorously disputes that the family has that option.

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