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Warner gets victory in legal fight with Superman heirs' attorney

Warner gets win in battle of rights to Superman

Warner Bros. has won the rights to use what it believes could be damaging documents in its long-running legal fight to hold on to the rights to Superman.

The ruling from three U.S. Court of Appeals judges issued Tuesday came as part of the studio's lawsuit against Marc Toberoff, a pugnacious attorney who represents the heirs of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

But Warner believes the documents will ultimately prove critical in the effort of its DC Comics division to retain the rights to the superhero, which Toberoff has asserted should revert to the Siegel and Shuster heirs in 2013.

According to Tuesday's ruling, the documents in question were sent by an attorney who formerly worked for Toberoff to Warner Bros. prior to June 2006. A cover letter that accompanied the documents said they show that the Siegel heirs' prior attorney threatened that, if they worked with Toberoff, he would testify that the heirs had previously reached a settlement agreement with the studio.

Warner is apparently hoping to use those documents in its fight over the Superman rights. A judge previously ruled that the Siegel heirs' 50% interest in Superman should revert back to them, and Toberoff is trying to win a similar ruling for the Shuster heirs to take effect in 2013. That would deprive Warner Bros. of control of one of its most valuable and iconic properties.

"We are extremely pleased that the 9th Circuit unanimously found in our favor," a Warner spokesman said in a statement. "The ruling means that defendant Marc Toberoff must now turn over critical evidence in the pending litigation against him and others."

Toberoff had argued the documents were covered under attorney-client privilege. In a statement, he disagreed with the ruling and said it would not affect the overall dispute over the Superman rights:

"We cooperated with the US Attorney's office to enable them to investigate the theft from our law firm of the Siegels' and Shusters' privileged documents. We are disappointed in today's decision which holds that such cooperation with law enforcement by the victims of a privacy crime, itself waives privilege as to stolen documents. However, nothing in this ruling or the documents at issue will affect the merits of this case. We are considering our options as to the ruling, and will continue to vigorously defend our clients' rights."

In an entirely unrelated development, an unnamed bidder paid $160,000 at an online auction Tuesday for the original check that DC comics wrote, more than 74 years ago, to acquire the rights to Superman. The check was made out to Siegel and Shuster in the amount of $412. 

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-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Part of a variant cover for DC Comics' new Action Comics No. 1, drawn by Jim Lee. Credit: DC Comics.

 
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