Today’s oral argument in the Siegel case is up on YouTube – and no, this isn’t a rickroll.
As noted in my article reporting on the scheduling of today’s panel, the odds did not appear to be in the favor of the Siegel appeal, and the judges’ questions and comments did little to dispel that initial impression.
The session opened with Judge Schroeder adding a sharp “Again” to Judge Pregerson’s observation that Laura Siegel Larson v. Warner Bros. Entertainment “is the case that involves Superman,” and her offhand comment was telling — all three members of the panel gave the impression that they felt the appellate court’s prior ruling that the 2001 agreement was a settlement had indeed resolved the issues that Siegel attorney Marc Toberoff is trying to revive.
The questioning began with a rigorous inquiry from Judge Michelle Friedland, a former corporate attorney who seemed to have little sympathy for Toberoff’s attempt to show that when the 2001 settlement agreement didn’t actually transfer any rights. There was a little more breathing space given to the issue of whether Warner Bros. was prejudiced (i.e., harmed) by Toberoff’s failure to raise a certain claim until after the earlier decision by the appellate court, but without going into detail here, it’s a technical matter where there’s a well-established line of argument vis a vis judicial efficiency and fairness that would support a decision to preserve the status quo.
Warner Bros. attorney Daniel Petrocelli was himself grilled on a couple technical issues, but in each case he succeeded in relating his arguments back to the core doctrinal and policy points set forth by the judges – at one point, after Petrocelli recited settlement language showing that the contract did indeed track established precedent in regard to heirs using termination as a leverage to secure a favorable deal, there was a silence in the courtroom that in any other context would have ended with a mic drop.
Again, questions in court are not always prophetic signs of the panel’s ultimate decision — as we’ve seen a couple times in this case at the district court level, judges can take some interesting turns to achieve a particular goal. However, if the Siegel side were to win based on the arguments made in court today, one could expect a serious challenge in review by a panel of eleven 9th Circuit judges en banc.