A federal judge today has denied a motion seeking to disqualify lawyers repping the estate of The Lord Of The Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien in its $80 million copyright and digital merchandising lawsuit against Warner Bros and the Saul Zaentz Company. The studio and its partner in early June filed a motion to have Fourth Age’s lawyers, Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP, disqualified the almost-2-year-old suit “because the firm impermissibly gained access to privileged information in violation of Rules of Professional Conduct.”
In today’s three-page order (read it here), U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins wrote that “Warner and Zaentz have not met their burden of showing that disqualification is necessary to preserve the integrity of these proceedings.” WB is repped by Daniel Petrocelli of LA firm O’Melveny & Meyers; Saul Zaentz Co is repped by Martin Glick of San Francisco firm Arnold & Porter LLP.
Fourth Age first filed the suit in November 2012 and revolves around an agreement made in 1969 between United Artists and the Tolkien estate. At issue launching off that 1969 UA movie deal is what other rights were included. Warner Bros has said in filings and counterclaims of its own that all this was settled in a 2010 re-grant, something with which the estate and publishers HarperCollins took issue.
The disqualification motion said that Fourth Age’s law firm hired former UA in-house attorneys Alan Benjamin and William Bernstein as experts and potential witness for $10,000. The duo represented UA in negotiations concerning the matter. “Greenberg thereby placed itself in the position of representing not only the key witnesses on both—and opposite—sides of the contracts at issue, but also its adversaries’ former counsel who worked on the very contracts at issue,” the motion read. “In doing so, Greenberg invaded the attorney-client privilege now held by MGM, which controls UA, positioning UA’s former lawyers to be adverse to the interests of MGM and UA’s successors-in-interest, Warner and Zaentz.”