Judge grants media access to damage phase of Disney lawsuit
CALIFORNIA–In mid-April, a state Superior Court judge in Los Angeles held that the damages phase of former Walt Disney Co. studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg’s $250 million breach of contract lawsuit against Disney will be open to the public and the media.
Besides opening Phase II of the trial, Superior Court Judge John W. Ouderkirk lifted protective orders that had kept documents in the case private. However, Ouderkirk gave the lawyers until April 29, 1999 to refile motions to reseal the documents.
In addition Ouderkirk held that during the course of the damages phase of the high-profile trial, if any party wishes to deny the public access on the grounds that trade secrets will be jeopardized, that party should raise the issue with the judge, who shall then determine whether the “stringent test” for a protective order is satisfied.
Katzenberg left Disney in 1994 and sued the company in 1996, claiming that it owed him an “incentive bonus” worth 2 percent of the studio’s profits from movies or TV shows produced or acquired during his tenure as studio chief. Disney conceded liability in 1997.
A two-part settlement was reached through mediation. Disney and Katzenberg agreed that the final settlement amount is to remain confidential.
Media attorneys representing Daily Variety, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, The Los Angels Times, Time Inc., Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and others filed a motion seeking public and media access to the damages phase of the case. The media argued that the public proceedings and court records in “one of Hollywood’s most celebrated lawsuits” involving a public company with millions of shareholders were improperly sealed. The Associated Press reported that Disney claimed the case should remain closed because “proprietary, confidential and trade secret information lies at the core of the proceeding.”
(Katzenberg v. The Walt Disney Company; Media Counsel: Pierce O’Donnell and Christine Pagac, Los Angeles)