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Decision expected Tuesday in Disney/Ovitz lawsuit - MarketWatch, 8/8/05


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  • Decision expected Tuesday in Disney/Ovitz lawsuit - MarketWatch, 8/8/05

    A decision is expected to be issued Tuesday afternoon in the long-running legal fight over Michael Ovitz's brief but expensive tenure as second-in-command to Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner in the mid-1990s.

    Chancellor William B. Chandler III of Delaware's Court of Chancery will rule on whether Disney's board of directors did its job when Eisner hired his good friend as Disney's president nearly a decade ago.

    Hollywood powerbroker Ovitz found himself out of a job after a little more than a year as Eisner's second-in-command at the entertainment giant.

    Shareholders sued to recoup $140 million in exit pay that cushioned Ovitz's departure, in a case that bounced around the Delaware courts for years before coming to trial in 2004.

    If they win, they are asking damages of about $262.3 million, which includes interest from December 1996 through March 2005.

    Corporate lawyers are eagerly awaiting the ruling from Chandler, top judge of a corporate law tribunal that sets the standard for board behavior in Delaware, where many of the nation's largest companies are incorporated.

    Some current and former Disney directors stand accused of being lax in their oversight of Ovitz's hiring and termination, letting Eisner set up a deal that made it more profitable for his former friend to depart than to stick around.

    Eisner made an effort to distance himself from Ovitz during the trial. "We're talking semantics here," he said. "Michael Ovitz had a lot of best friends. Michael Ovitz was a salesman, is a salesman."

    Law professors have already made plans for an online symposium to discuss what Chandler has to say in the Disney case, particularly about how much attention boards of directors need to pay to the hiring, and firing, of top executives.

    The morning-after Web session will be held at, a blog hosted by University of Wisconsin Law School Professor D. Gordon Smith and other academics.
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