The long legal battle between Warner Bros. Pictures and the estates of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster may soon be coming to a close. But in typical Hollywood fashion, the studio wants a twist ending.
For more than a decade, Warners, which also owns DC Comics, has been battling a lawsuit filed by Marc Toberoff, the lawyer who represents the Siegel and Shuster families and claims that ownership of the character should revert to them. Warners countersued in 2010, claiming that Toberoff had interfered with deals already put in place with the Siegel and Shuster estates through their previous legal representation.
If you believe the Warners side of the story, Toberoff has been the supervillain in this saga all along, and now the Hollywood Reporter has revealed that the studio wants the case thrown out of court entirely because of what it claims is unprofessional and unethical behavior on the part of Toberoff.
With a judge preparing this week to hand down a ruling in the case, Warners wants the case terminated because it claims, among other things, that Toberoff hid pertinent information. The studio's motion alleges that the lawyer "has violated three court orders, submitted four false and misleading declarations, made misrepresentations to the Court, bogged down the Court for years in an effort to hid [sic] the ball, and otherwise subverted DC's right to a fair search for the truth in both this case and the Siegel case."
All this goes back to 2001, when Jerry Siegel's daughter Laura tried to get the rights to Superman back. The studio entered into negotiations with her and made an offer of $3 million to keep the rights.
But then Toberoff came along and began representing both families, scoring a victory in 2008 when a judge said that the families' claim to get back ownership was valid—but only as it pertained to certain aspects of Superman's origin story.
Warners has claimed that Toberoff hid a 2003 letter from Laura Siegel confirming that a deal was already in place with the Siegel estate and that it was too late for the family to accept Toberoff's representation in the case. Toberoff has apparently acted as a business partner to the families as well—which takes him onto sketchy ethical territory (he's been a thorn in Marvel's side too, as you can see here).
As with any case like this, there is a maze of legalese that the two sides have waded through for years now, but the bottom line is that, should Toberoff prevail, the upcoming Man of Steel movie could be affected, along with future Justice League movies starring Superman, not to mention ongoing comic books and other media properties based around the character.
So who do you think is the bad guy here? Is it the studio or the lawyer? Do you think Warners has ripped off the Siegel and Shuster families, or is Toberoff just an opportunist using them to gain control of an incredibly lucrative property?