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Why Did This Huge Law Firm Fork Over $25 Million to the Franklin Mint.....?

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Hans G. Poppe
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What do the Franklin Mint, a Princess and a huge law firm have in common?  A lawsuit, of course! 

Stewart and Lynda Resnick used to own the Franklin Mint, which is a creator and supplier of coins, diecast models, jewelry, collectible dolls and other novelties.  According to the Wall Street Journal, "The Franklin Mint, which produced a commemorative plate, purse, and porcelain doll using [Princess Diana's] likeness after she was killed in a 1997 car crash in Paris. Manatt and IP partner Mark Lee — representing Diana’s estate and a memorial fund set up in her name — sued The Franklin Mint for trademark dilution and false advertising, claiming that their client’s likeness had been used without permission to market memorabilia. 

A Los Angeles federal judge dismissed the case against the mInt in 2000, calling it “groundless” and “unreasonable,” and awarded the mint $2.3 million in legal fees. But the mint didn’t stop there. It sued Manatt, Lee, and their client for malicious prosecution in 2002, claiming that the litigation was an attempt to hurt the company’s Diana-related sales.  According to AmLaw, the mint was particularly exercised over about a passage in Manatt’s complaint comparing the company to “vultures feeding on the dead.” Franklin Mint’s lawyers at Loeb & Loeb argued that such an allegation damaged their clients’ reputation. 

Diana’s estate and charity trust fund settled in 2004 for $25 million. The Resnicks donated all of the money to charity.  Manatt, however, continued to fight. It won at the lower-court level, lost the appeal, and lost an attempt to have the California Supreme Court take the case up. Ultimately, the firm settled for $25 million, which the Resnicks also say they’ll give to charity.

In a statement on behalf of firm CEO and managing partner William Quicksilver, Manatt said: “This settlement will not have an adverse impact on us, and Manatt is well positioned for growth moving forward. While we continue to believe in our legal position, it was in the firm’s best interest to settle this matter and put it behind us . . . . We are pleased that the settlement proceeds are going to charity.”

Said Stewart Resnick, in a statement:

“We were committed to seeing this through to the end to prove the point that lawyers must have higher ethical standards and can’t take advantage of companies solely to enrich themselves.”


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