Universal Headed to $77 Million Loss in 'Columbo' Profits Lawsuit

Columbo-Photofest-H 2019

A panel of accounting referees, tasked with figuring out what Universal City Studios owed to the creators of the 1970s detective series Columbo, have concluded the right amount is $76.95 million.

The lawsuit was brought by William Link and heirs of Richard Levinson, who waited 45 years before getting their first profit participation check despite Columbo reaping hundreds of millions in revenue from broadcast and home video distribution.

The case went to trial in March, and the jury's conclusion was that the plaintiffs hadn't waited too long to bring claims, and furthermore, that Universal wasn't entitled to deduct distribution fees in accounting to profit participants. Thereafter, the judge referred the matter to referees to analyze income and expense statements and competing interpretations from the parties' respective experts. 

The panel's report, dated July 22, returned the results.

The referees concluded that Link's and Levinson's loan-out companies were shorted about $36 million and additionally tacked on nearly $41 million in prejudgment interest. The total amount wasn't quite the $105 million that the plaintiffs insisted was due, but it was certainly more than Universal's contention.

The report now goes to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Burdge, who will issue final judgment.

Details about Universal's potential liability in this case comes just as Disney settled a profits dispute over Home Improvement. The two cases had similarities. An appellate court's ruling reviving the Home Improvement case helped the Columbo profit participants with their contention that they had brought a timely claim, and ultimately, the Home Improvement case also addressed the issue of charging distribution fees.

The Columbo plaintiffs are represented by a team led by Alton Burkhalter at Burkhalter Kessler, while Universal is being handled by a team led by Robert Klieger at Hueston Hennigan.