June 15, 2011 6:27am PT by Eriq Gardner
Federal Judge Allowing Warner Bros. To Obtain Toberoff's Stolen 'Superman' Documents
A federal judge overseeing the latest chapter of the fight over "Superman" rights has denied attorney Marc Toberoff's appeal over an order to turn over documents to Warner Bros. The studio hopes to use the documents to show how he allegedly interfered with its rights and engineered an improper arrangement between the estates of "Superman" creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster not to make any deal with the studio.
The documents were subject to much legal intrigue when they were purportedly stolen by a fellow lawyer at Toberoff's firm and sent to Warner Bros.' doorstep. The studio sent all but the cover letter back, but have been fighting ever since to attain them once again through legitimate means.
Last month, a magistrate judge ruled that Toberoff could have fought a grand jury subpoena in the resulting investigation of the theft by standing on attorney-client privilege, but didn't, and as a result, must turn over his shielded documents.
For more background on what may be in those documents, the theft, and the aftermath, see "Hollywood Heist: How a Burglary May Impact the Future of Superman."
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright rejected Toberoff's reasoning why the magistrate judge's order was flawed. Toberoff unsuccessfully argued his cooperation with prosecutors wasn't "voluntary" and that the magistrate judge had relied on out-of-circuit decisions to come to the conclusion why the disclosure of documents in a criminal case should override attorney-client privilege in a civil one.
Barring further appeal, Warner Bros. will now have access to documents that it hopes will bolster its tortious interference lawsuit against Toberoff.
Whether or not production of those documents really helps the studio in counter-attacking Toberoff remains to be seen, but it's a small victory for Warner Bros. in a brutal decade-long fight. The Siegel and Shuster estates have been largely successful in terminating copyright grants over their early work, which includes some of Superman’s defining characteristics, such as his costume, Clark Kent and his origin story. The termination dispute is headed to the Ninth Circuit.