A federal judge has issued a tentative ruling shutting down the Walt Disney Co.’s bid to overturn a $319 million jury verdict over profits from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
The decision is not final, and lawyers for Disney and Millionaire producer Celador Intl. were in the Riverside courtroom of Judge Virginia A. Phillips on Monday arguing for more than two-and-a-half hours. But Phillips issued a 43-page tentative ruling saying she will likely deny Disney’s request to throw out the July verdict and order a new trial. A final judgment is expected later this week.
If the tentative ruling is upheld, Disney will almost certainly appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, setting up another high-profile showdown in the closely-watched 6-year old litigation.
The Millionaire trial made headlines this summer because it shined a rare public light on complex studio accounting procedures and dealmaking in the early days of the reality TV boom. Celador claimed Disney, ABC and their affiliated entities operated a “shell game” when they brought the show to America in 1999, hiding millions of dollars in revenue owed to Celador under a profit-sharing arrangement. The trial featured testimony from Disney CEO Robert Iger and Celador’s Paul Smith, as well as former William Morris agents Greg Lipstone and Ben Silverman, who helped broker deals to bring the show to the U.S.
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