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The Walt Disney Co. urged a judge to throw out a 13-year-old Winnie the Pooh lawsuit on grounds that the company demanding millions of dollars in royalties stole and concealed legal documents. Disney accused Steven Slesinger Inc. of the same kind of conduct that caused a judge to fine Disney in a previous ruling. The hearing was expected to last several days. If the trial is allowed to proceed, it could begin in January. SSI owns the merchandising rights to the Pooh story characters. The company sued Disney in 1991, claiming it is owed millions in royalties on the sale of videotapes, DVDs and computer software. Disney claims those items were not covered in its 1983 licensing agreement with SSI. On Tuesday, Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli alleged that a private investigator hired by SSI stole more than 6,000 pages of documents from a trash bin and company offices over a period of years. “Rarely do you ever see a case where the rules have been broken so badly, so often, and so unapologetically,” Petrocelli said as he asked a Superior Court judge to throw out the case. Petrocelli also said that for years SSI has refused to provide key documents and then only produced them long after their authors had died and could not be interviewed. SSI attorney Patrick Cathcart said there was nothing wrong about retrieving from a trash bin the “documents they (Disney) didn’t care about and did abandon.” Cathcart said the documents didn’t reveal anything significant. Eric Ferrer, another SSI lawyer, also denied any wrongdoing and argued that Disney was simply trying to delay trial. “Disney has hijacked, derailed and turned on its head this trial,” Ferrer said. “It’s clever lawyering, but it’s wrong.” Ferrer called Disney’s dismissal motion a backdoor effort to overturn a judge’s earlier ruling that Disney destroyed documents in the case, including some marked “Winnie the Pooh-legal problems.” “What Disney did was they destroyed evidence,” Ferrer said. Although the judge stopped short of ruling Disney had intentionally destroyed the materials, he ordered the company to pay $90,000 in legal fees and said jurors could be told about the destruction when SSI’s lawsuit goes to trial. Disney said the destroyed documents were irrelevant to the case. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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