Pooh family upset over canceled talks


Attorneys for a Beverly Hills family with merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh issued a harshly worded criticism of the Walt Disney Co. on Monday after the studio sought and received court permission to cancel a magistrate's conference.

The session had been scheduled in connection with a February ruling by U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of Los Angeles. Representatives of the family of rights plaintiff Stephen Slesinger issued a press release to complain after the judge agreed to cancel what they characterized as a "mediation" session.

"Under court order, Disney would have been required to produce, at the mediation, a board member with authority to settle (the dispute)," the family charged. "(But) Disney canceled at the last minute instead."

In a court battle weaving through state and federal courts over several years, the Slesinger family has charged Disney with copyright infringement, trademark violations and other claims. It seeks up to $2 billion in Pooh merchandise royalties that it alleges the studio owes the family.

"Disney's chance to resolve Slesinger's claims through settlement rather than risk potentially catastrophic losses is behind us," said the family's attorney, Barry Slotnick of Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney in New York. "Disney walked away from the table."

A Disney spokesman deferred comment to the studio's outside counsel, Daniel Petrocelli of O'Melveny & Myers in Century City.

"We argued to the judge that it would not make any sense to hold a settlement conference," Petrocelli said. "The judge agreed with our position that it would not be meaningful at this juncture."

Petrocelli said there was never a mediation session scheduled but only a more standard settlement conference, scheduled after the latest federal claim was filed by the Slesingers. The federal case is on hold pending a decision on the family's appeal in state court of a 2004 ruling rejecting their claims against Disney.