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Inside Move: The fog of time

Mouse mogul fuzzy on Katzenberg case

Jeffrey who?

It may have been the case that made “I hate the little midget” a household phrase, but five years after his legendary day on the witness stand, Disney CEO Michael Eisner is pretty hazy about Katzenberg v. Disney.

The Mouse topper’s memories of the dust-up are rather murky, according to court documents released in the current shareholder litigation over the $140 million severance package given to Michael Ovitz.

Showbizzers will recall that Jeffrey Katzenberg left his post as head of production at Disney after Eisner refused to make him president. Katzenberg then sued for a bonus that he claimed entitled him to a percentage of Disney profits. After a two-month trial in 1999, the case settled with a $250 million payment to Katzenberg.

But when asked about the case during his November deposition in the current litigation over Ovitz’s settlement, Eisner testified that he did not recall when the Katzenberg litigation began or ended.

When asked if Katzenberg was fired, Eisner testified: “Yes. I guess you could say that. No, you cannot say that. I take it back. I take it back. You cannot say that. His contract was up. His contract was not renewed. He was not fired.”

But Katzenberg was not completely out of sight, out of mind.

At his deposition in the current dispute, Ovitz testified that he spent an “unbelievable amount of time” keeping Disney animators from defecting to DreamWorks.

“To his credit, Mr. Katzenberg was very tenacious at trying to romance these people,” Ovitz testified. “And Michael would call me constantly: Can you handle this, can you save that, can you do this?”