Celador vs. Disney: Total ‘I Don’t Recall’

Ah, the memories. Or lack thereof, in the Celador vs. Disney trial’s final stretch

“Good morning, Mr. Lipstone,” Walt Disney Co. lawyer Marty Katz said Wednesday morning to the former William Morris agent on his return to the stand. “Welcome back.”

That cheery greeting is about as lively as things got Wednesday in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” creator Celador International’s $270 million suit against Disney. Greg Lipstone took the oath again, answered a few questions, didn't answer many others, and left.

He did very little else.

Which would be great if the current ICM VP was a witness for the plaintiff, as he was three weeks ago. But Lipstone, who in a dark suit, blue shirt and yellow tie was spiffed up Wednesday more than his appearance almost three weeks ago, was called as a defense witness – and what he did for Disney in this case remains to be seen.

Celador, which sued in 2004, alleges that Disney, ABC, Buena Vista Television and Valleycrest Productions conducted a series of slippery deals and secret arrangements that shorted the “Millionaire” creators hundreds of millions in expected revenues and profits.

Part of the path of inequity Celador wants the jury to follow comes from multimillion-dollar commissions WMA received out of the package deal eventually signed with ABC to bring the game show to American TV in 1999. The British company alleges that WMA, led by Lipstone, Ben Silverman and others, essentially was double-dipping by acting as “ABC’s sole and exclusive agent” while also representing Celador.

But, as Greg Lipstone knows, WMA is not on trial.

No wonder Lipstone, even more than the last time he showed up in Judge Virginia Phillips’ courtroom, said very little beyond “I don’t recall.” He didn’t have to. Similar to the appearance of his former WMA colleague John Ferriter on Tuesday, Lipstone’s brief time in the witness box, which was over in less than an hour, was less than anticlimactic.

If Disney wanted to attempt a TKO by bringing someone back, it should have taken a swing at Celador co-founder Paul Smith, who took the stand in the first week, especially since the plaintiff has yet to draw a smoking gun. As Disney boss Robert Iger’s bout on the stand last week displayed, confident CEOs rarely let you land a punch.

Which is why both sides seem intent on treating WMA as the villain in this fight.

The case is moving into its final days before the June 29 deadline that Judge Philips set for sending the jury into deliberations.