Warner Bros. lawsuit against Superman attorney can continue

by  in Comic News Comment
Warner Bros. lawsuit against Superman attorney can continue

A federal judge has refused to dismiss Warner Bros.’ lawsuit against the attorney representing the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Variety reports.

The studio filed a 65-page complaint in May 2010 accusing Marc Toberoff, its longtime legal nemesis, of orchestrating “a web of collusive agreements” that led the Siegel family to reject “mutually beneficial” longtime deals with DC Comics and seek to recapture copyright to the Man of Steel. The lawsuit, which hinges on documents stolen from Toberoff’s office and delivered anonymously to Warner Bros., is designed to force him to resign as the lawyer for the Siegels, who in 2008 successfully terminated the original 1938 transfer of copyright for Action Comics #1. The window will open in 2013 for Shuster’s estate to do the same.

Toberoff filed a motion in August 2010 to dismiss the studio’s complaint under California anti-SLAPP laws designed to curb lawsuits intended to intimidate the opposition through delays and legal expense.

However, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ruled Toberoff had failed to demonstrate that his role as attorney for the Siegel and Shuster heirs is protected under the California statutes. Wright specifically cited a business deal Toberoff struck with the Shuster estate that he characterized as “not an agreement for the provision of legal services, but one concerning the exploitation of Joe Shuster’s creations.” That’s presumably a reference to an arrangement that Warner Bros. charged would give Toberoff and his companies “a controlling financial interest in the families’ collective claims — leaving him as the largest financial stakeholder” in the Man of Steel.

Toberoff insisted in court filings that he hadn’t consulted with the Siegels, and had yet to even meet them, when they dropped their previous attorneys and formally called off negotiations with DC Comics in September 2002. He said that while two of his companies, IP Worldwide and Pacific Pictures, had agreements with the heirs, those have either expired or been terminated.

According to Variety, Wright also ruled that Toberoff must turn over a letter from Siegel’s daughter, Laura Siegel Larson, to her half-brother Michael, which Warner Bros. contends will support its claims that the attorney “tortiously interfered” in settlement talks.

The letter presumably was in response to the one written by Michael Siegel in May 2003 warning Laura not to become involved with Toberoff, whom he described as a “mysterious billionaire” plotting with Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel to gain control of Superman for themselves. (Michael’s letter was among the papers stolen from Toberoff’s office). Although never close with his father, Michael still has a financial stake in the outcome of the case. Toberoff allegedly had attempted to involve Michael in the effort to reclaim the copyrights but was rejected.