The Winnie the Pooh case — the longest-running legal matter in L.A. Superior Court — has been assigned to a different judge.
Charles W. McCoy, who is in charge of a unit of the court specializing in complex litigation, will take over the 12-year-old case from L.A. Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige. The first hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22.
Move was made at Hiroshige’s request and supported by both sides of the litigation — the Slesinger family and Disney. The complex litigation unit handles cases that often involve arcane accounting testimony and are expected to last longer than most lawsuits. The parties involved apparently felt the the section was a better venue for the issues expected to arise before and during trial.
A representative for the Slesingers — the plaintiffs in the royalty dispute with Disney — said the family was pleased with the transfer because “it indicates proceedings will be moving along soon.
“We have great respect for both Judge Hiroshige, who thought transfer was best for the case, and Judge McCoy, who has the experience and credentials to handle this case effectively,” the rep said.
The heirs of Stephen Slesinger hold the North American rights to the Pooh characters and have licensed them to Disney since the 1960s. In 1991 the family sued the Mouse House, claiming it has been cheated out of royalty payments. Given that Pooh is Disney’s most popular character, damage estimates have run as high as $1 billion.
The case, which has been moribund for long stretches of the past decade, has made headlines in recent years. Among the most significant developments was a 2001 ruling by Hiroshige that a jury could be told Disney destroyed documents relevant to the case. That ruling has been upheld on appeal.
In February, Disney made a motion to terminate the case because of alleged misconduct by the Slesingers. The move — widely known as the trash motion — claims the family found privileged documents by illegally going through Disney’s trash. That motion is still pending.
Disney’s attorney, Daniel Petrocelli said, “We are looking forward to having a prompt live evidentiary hearing on our motion for terminating sanctions, and we intend to address this matter to the court at the earliest opportunity.”
In recent years Disney has been represented by Petrocelli, best known for bringing a civil suit against O.J. Simpson. The Slesingers have been represented by a succession of lawyers. Well-known entertainment lawyer Bert Fields bowed out in June, and the family is now represented by Jones Day, one of the largest firms in the country.