DC Comics accuses lawyer in Superman case of misconduct

Even as a judge is poised to rule whether the Joe Shuster estate's bid to reclaim a portion of the Superman rights is valid, DC Comics is accusing the family's attorney -- a longtime legal nemesis of parent company Warner Bros. -- of misconduct, and has asked the court to end the case.

Hollywood, Esq. reports the publisher on Wednesday filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing, arguing that attorney Marc Toberoff, who also represents Jerry Siegel's heirs, "has violated three court orders, submitted four false and misleading declarations, made misrepresentations to the court, bogged down the court for years in his efforts to [hide] the ball, and otherwise subverted DC’s right to a fair search for the truth in both this case and the Siegel case."

DC is pushing for terminating sanctions, which usually consists of dismissal. Toberoff tells Hollywood, Esq. that the motion is another distraction by the company, which filed a lawsuit in 2010 designed to force him to resign as the Siegels' attorney.

DC claims that in 2001 Toberoff convinced Siegel's daughter Laura Siegel Larson to walk away from a $3 million deal that would've permitted the publisher to retain the rights to the first Superman story in Action Comics #1. Shuster's nephew Mark Warren Peary also signed with Toberoff, and in 2008 the Siegel family succeeded in reclaiming a portion of the rights through a provision of the U.S. Copyright Act (the case is on appeal); the window opens for the Shuster estate in 2013.

However, DC insists the termination notice filed by Peary in 2003 is invalid, arguing that the estate relinquished all claims to the Man of Steel in 1992 in exchange for "more than $600,000 and other benefits," including payment of Shuster's debts following his death earlier that year and a $25,000 annual pension for his sister Jean Peavy. But Toberoff asserted last month that DC didn't intend for the "ambiguous" 1992 document to transfer ownership of the copyright, telling U.S. District Judge Otis Wright that the publisher would never pin the future of "a billion-dollar property" on such an agreement. Wright, who will also consider DC's latest motion, initially was skeptical but later appeared to recognize logic in Toberoff's argument.

In addition to terminating sanctions, DC seeks the assignment of a special master to investigate any misconduct.

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