Richard Dreyfuss Sues Disney Over 'What About Bob?'

The lawsuit also involves 'Turner and Hooch' and alleges that Disney is making it "exceedingly difficult for profit participants to retain the best possible representation and be paid the monies they are due."
Associated Press

What about David? That's the question posed by a new lawsuit filed by Richard Dreyfuss and Christine Wagner against Walt Disney Pictures over the 1991 film What About Bob? and 1989 motion picture Turner and Hooch. Dreyfuss co-starred with Bill Murray in the former, while Wagner's late husband produced the latter, starring Tom Hanks and a dog.

According to a complaint filed on Thursday in LA Superior Court, Disney has refused a demand by Dreyfuss and Wagner to hire their chosen auditor — Robinson Inc., founded by David J. Robinson.

In a potentially watershed case from attorney Neville Johnson, the complaint lays out how profit participation auditors are called upon to find monies due to profit participants and how studios are "make auditing as onerous as possible."

Often, when big stars do battle with studios over auditing, it never gets reported publicly because of confidentiality agreements and disputes adjudicated in closed door arbitration. According to the lawsuit, the arbitrators don't wish to upset the studios for fear of losing repeat business. "It's a one-sided world where corporations assert their control over talent who do not have the leverage to otherwise protect themselves."

Dreyfuss and Wagner now figure they have an opening to explore issues of how net profits are calculated by raising the issue of auditors.

"There are very few firms that regularly audit the Studios," states the complaint. "The so-called 'Big Four' accounting firms have no reputation for or competence in this regard. These few firms that do have the relevant expertise include: Robinson Inc.; Green Hasson Janks; Hacker Douglas & Company; and Nigro Karlin Segal Feldstein & Bolno."

Robinson is said to be "tough, tenacious, and gets results," which allegedly is why Disney doesn't want the firm involved. But the plaintiffs argue that it's a reputable firm that has performed audits of all the studios including Disney, and furthermore that Robinson is an extremely qualified auditor. He was the director of Worldwide Television Finance for NBCUniversal. He also spent time in the 1990s for Deloitte & Touche where his clients are said to have included E! Entertainment Television, Beacon Communications, Rysher Entertainment, Harvey Entertainment, DirecTV and Todd-AO Studios.

Robinson's firm is a co-plaintiff in the suit.

In response to demands that Robinson be allowed to perform audits for Dreyfuss, Disney stated that such an audit must be done "by a national firm of reputable CPAs."

"Disney has not stated any basis for its conclusion that Robinson Inc. is not a nationally recognized firm," retorts the lawsuit. "Apparently, no one can leave a 'nationally recognized firm,' and start out on his or her own without running afoul of Disney's policy regarding the same. What Disney has done is reduce an already very small pool of auditors to a nearly non-existent puddle, and made it exceedingly difficult for profit participants to retain the best possible representation and be paid the monies they are due."

Alleging such causes of action as breach of contract, violation of California business and professions code, and intentional interference with the right to pursue a lawful calling or profession, the plaintiffs assert that they are being damaged. Wagner says she is entitled to 50 percent of Turner and Hooch net profits and there are fees at stake for Robinson.

Also representing the plaintiffs are attorneys Douglas Johnson and Jordanna Thigpen.

Disney hasn't yet responded to a request for comment.

Twitter: @eriqgardner

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