Monday, April 23, 2012
Superman & The "Toberoff Timeline" Part II
Now that the Ninth Circuit has ruled that documents contained in the 'Toberoff Timeline' can be introduced into the DC Comics vs Pacific Pictures case, things will begin to get far more interesting. To summarise the situation, in June 2011 I wrote, "On May 10, 2010, a suit was filed detailing the exact carve up of the potential non-DC Superman copyright. Whereas the carve up was, originally, 50% to the Siegels and 50% to the Shuster estate, the reality is that it's now completely different. The suit detailed who now owns what and featured a detailed time-line which had the DC lawyers running to file. The document that launched it all is called the "Superman – Marc Toberoff Timeline" and was prepared by an ex-employee of Toberoff, and submitted to DC in 2008. According to the court filing, Toberoff, "…asserted to the federal court that it was privileged, but his position was rejected," which meant that the timeline was now able to be studied in detail. And the document is damning, detailing as it does a series of Machiavellian moves that now sees Toberoff own 47.5% of the non-DC Superman copyright, against the Siegel Heirs, who own 27.5% and the Shuster Heirs, who own 25%. Thus the real winner in this case is the Siegels, or the Shusters, but rather Marc Toberoff, who will cash in with his 47.5% of the copyright and all monies to be awarded, plus future earnings, plus more money for his work on behalf of the Siegels. In short Toberoff, already a very rich man, will become even richer for pursuing a lawsuit, purportedly on behalf of the Siegels, but all the time with the full knowledge, and initial non-disclosure, that he would be benefiting more."
Now it remains to be seen if the documents in the Timeline will be introduced into the public record, of it they'll be subject to confidentiality - there'll be no doubt that they'll be redacted at some point. Having said that there are some documents and letters that are mentioned in the Timeline that we do have access to. These are as follows: first up, the Toberoff Timeline itself:
As you'd be able to see, the Timeline paints a damning picture of what Marc Toberoff is alleged to have done in his pursuit of the Superman copyright. Toberoff has denied all of the allegations, claiming that the lawyer who is reported to have stolen the documents, prepared the Timeline and presented it to the DC Comics lawyers was attempting to discredit him with the view of luring Joanne and Laura Siegel away from Toberoff and representing them himself. What is known, mainly due to Laura Siegels depositions (which you can read in their entity in The Trials Of Superman, Vol II, link opposite this post), is that Michaels contacted the Siegels in 2005 and informed them that he had documentation explaining their case. The Siegels met with Michaels, as Laura stated, "...we were curious. We wanted to know what this guy had to say." The crux of the meeting soon became apparent, again, from Laura Siegel's deposition, "...when he was at the meeting and then in this follow-up e-mail that he sent to us that it was a bold attempt on his part to steal my mom and I away from Mr. Toberoff as clients, and he wanted us to sign with him for him to be our attorney." Later Laura went a step further, "On his way out the door he turned and said, "I've got an idea. You know, why don't you guys just, you know, come with me and I'll introduce you to another firm."
After the meeting Michaels and the Siegels corresponded by email, during that time the Siegels told Michaels that they did not want to hire him. As Laura again explained, "It was -- it was like -- first of all, we were shocked because we thought it was pretty outrageous, and, you know, we felt that he had, you know, come -- come in to talk to us under false pretences. But he was -- he was on the way out the door, and my mom and I, you know, didn't have to kick him out because he was already leaving, but, you know, we wanted to talk about it afterwards and figure out what had just happened. My mom and I said we didn't have a good feeling about it, you know, but we just -- we wanted to, you know, to kind of think, just as we do about everything, think about things, talk about things, and what could this guy's motivations possibly be." During the email exchange Michaels presented the Siegels with a letter that he wanted them to sign, stating that they were firing Toberoff due to 'unconscionable fees'. At this point they contacted Toberoff and told him of the encounter - or so it is claimed.
The main point of interest surrounding the Timeline is an exchange of letters between Michael and Laura Siegel. Clearly there was some bad blood between Michael and Joanne and Laura Siegel, and one of the bones of contention was Superman and Toberoff. Michael had been attempted to sell his portion of the Superman trademark and, through his own lawyer, Marc Toberoff approached him with an offer from an agent, Ari Emanuel, who was either portrayed as being an 'un-named billionaire' or a mere 'investor'. Negotiations went nowhere with Michael asking too much and the investor offering too little. Once Toberoff began to represent Joanne and Laura Siegel, negotiations fell through. Michael Siegel's letter was described in the Toberoff Timeline as a warning to Laura and Joanne.
Laura, described Michael in her deposition as such, "Michael was the child of a very upsetting divorce, and he -- you know, it hurts me to have to say this, but, you know, he was a very kind of confused guy and he really kind of couldn't keep things straight. It was very difficult to communicate with him, and it was very upsetting to receive communications from him that were kind of all over the place, things that didn't really make any sense, and he was very secretive, and he just couldn't really grasp legal principles. So discussions with -- directly with him really didn't work. It really required attorneys to explain things to him, and that's why he had his own attorney, who was, of course, interpreting things, you know, for Michael and explaining things to him. But he didn't -- he didn't have any -- any background in understanding the history of, you know, the Superman litigations or - you know." With that in mind Laura responded to his letter as such, and this is the letter that DC have fought to introduce to the court for nearly two years now:
The letter was followed up by a claim for monies owed by Michael Siegel for his share of litigation undertaken on his behalf by Marc Toberoff:
The April accounting was exhaustive. Naturally this didn't make Michael Siegel happy at all. In effect he'd been told that the deal for his share had fallen through and he could not make another deal unless it was to a third party monitored by Marc Toberoff. As for the investor, here's the correspondence from Michael Siegel's lawyer, Don Bulson, to Toberoff regarding that deal:
At this point the deal collapsed, if there ever was a deal. DC's contention is that there was no deal on the table, Toberoff denies this claim. Another claim that was made in the Toberoff Timeline that was disputed was Toberff attempting to shop Superman around as a movie project. Here's the evidence of that:
Before Michael Siegel passed away he sent his ideas for a will to his lawyer:
This means that, via proxy, Marc Toberoff has control over it as well. As he has the Shuster estate signed up, and Laura Siegel, he has, potentially, control over all of the non-DC Comics Superman trademark. New contracts have been drawn up between the Shuster estate and Laura Siegel, and it has been put to Laura that she could have earned a minimum of $10,000,000 from the Superman name during the time of the lawsuit, a claim that she had no response to. Once other relevant documents detailed in the Toberoff Timeline become public it'll help people understand the complexities of this case a lot better. It's easy to state that DC are the evil corporation trying to wrest Superman away from the families of his creators - and in a way, that's exactly right - but these documents, and more, also reveal dealings being done, behind closed doors and behind backs, that present the so called 'White Knight' lawyer, Marc Toberoff, in an entirely different light. As with any classic comic book saga, the true villain isn't clearly defined, and that might be because the true villain has yet to rear their head.