12:24pm PT by Ashley Cullins
'Star Wars' Model-Maker Sues Ex-Employees for Stealing Trade Secrets
The model-making company that created Star Wars icon R2-D2 was forced to close its doors and lay off all of its employees after a handful of workers defected to create a competing business, according to a complaint filed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
McCune Masterworks is suing its former shop supervisor, production designer and vendor for misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition, among other claims. The suit claims Monty Shook, Jack Edjourian and John Ferrari conspired to destroy McCune's business by creating a competing company to steal a longtime client.
The company began with artist Grant McCune, who was hired by George Lucas for Star Wars after the filmmaker saw his uncredited work on Jaws. According to the complaint, Shook and Edjourian worked with McCune for more than 20 years on projects including Spiderman, Rambo and Iron Man 2. McCune died of pancreatic cancer in 2010 and his wife Katherine took over day-to-day operations. When Hollywood shifted from miniature models to computer-generated effects, Katherine moved the company into the business of creating high-end models and gifts for consumers.
By 2012, most of McCune Masterworks' revenue came from an annual contract to build 500 automata music boxes for SBIZ/Equity Group, which is worth $3 million, according to the complaint. Around the same time, tensions between Katherine McCune and Shook and Edjourian ran high because the two men felt a model-maker should own McCune.
The suit claims a surreptitious job Edjourian did for SBIZ in 2012 set the stage for the men to leave the company and take the client with them in November 2015. Before they left, they gathered "valuable proprietary information" including confidential client project details and vendor lists.
"Shook and Edjourian took these actions in secret, transferring the files from McCune's computers with an external hard drive while they were still McCune employees, with the clear intent to use this valuable information to further their own business interests," states the complaint. "Forensic analysis shows that after Shook and Edjourian copied the pertinent information, they tried to cover their tracks by wiping a hard drive clean, thus attempting to destroy the evidence of their wrongful and intentional conduct."
McCune is seeking exemplary, actual and compensatory damages and restitution of at least $3 million.
Defendants have not yet filed a response to the complaint.