Below are excerpts from the interview of Santucci Priore, P.L. attorney Michael I. Santucci which aired this week on Legal News and Review, a weekly radio show on 1230 AM which is sponsored by the Broward Bar Association. Michael Santucci was the featured guest on the show.
Announcer: Welcome back to Legal News and Review. Coming to you recorded from Alpine Jaguar in Fort Lauderdale. Once again, here’s your moderator Phillip Bell.
Phillip: Legal News and Review is back on the air from a short recess. I’m Phillip Bell, the moderator of today’s broadcast, along with legal panel host Charles Morehead and legal panel host Gary Singer. Coming up right now from the law firm of Santucci and Priore and a fine attorney, Michael Santucci. Good evening.
Michael: Thanks for having me Phil.
Phillip: Appreciate you coming on. I mean and I was going to say you’re still a young man. People that practice law don’t have half of the background that you have as well. And I want to begin with something that I thought was gee wow, was a landmark case — All Pro Sports Camps versus Walt Disney World — and you were working with what I’d consider a great attorney, Johnny Cochran. You guys got a $240 million verdict against Disney. What’s the story behind that? That’s a lot of money.
Michael: The first thing that comes to mind in terms of story was years and years of very hard work.
Phillip: It was a 31 day trial though
Michael: Thirty-one day trial, but to get to that trial we started a lawsuit in federal court, got bounced out of federal court, went to state court, got bounced out of state court, appealed and won, went back to state court, finally got our 31 day trial, got the $240 million verdict. Tears came to everyone’s eyes in the courtroom. It was . . .
Gary: Especially Disney.
Michael: You got it. Of course, they appealed that. After the appeal was fully briefed . . .
Michael: . . . right before oral argument we were able to settle the case for a confidential amount that made everybody on our side extremely happy.
Gary: What was the case about in a nutshell?
Michael: The case, it started as a copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets case. Our clients, the two main principles, one was a professional baseball umpire, and the other was an architect. The professional baseball umpire with his partners would run sports camps throughout the country. His idea was to bring all these sports camps onto one venue and build sports themed hotels and turn it into a theme park.
Charles: It was a baseball park case
Michael: Right, and have it on a . . .
Charles: They stole his idea. Yeah.
Michael: Exactly. It wasn’t only the type, you know, a coincidence, oh I thought of that and they did it. Or I called them about that and then they did it without me. They actually worked on, further developed the project with Disney employees for two and half years. Disney invested into Euro Disney at that time, and they dropped the project. They said, “We’ll contact you if we pick up the project again.”
Well, three years later they announce to the press Disney’s Wide World of Sports, a theme park with 14 different sports, all the same elements. That was enough to convince an Orlando jury, with a few other details, when we got into discovery, we found some memos about our clients, people who remembered talking to them, and let’s take a look at the photos of the model and that sort of thing. I had great partners in that case. Not only Johnny Cochran but Willie Gary. As he came on, Willy Gary‘s firm came on about . . . the whole thing took about nine years. He came on about for the state court phase of it, and he was lead counsel at trial. I learned so much from working with those guys, watching Johnny Cochran cross-examine Dick Nunis, the President of Walt Disney World, who is still an icon in Central Florida. Masterful cross-examination.
Phillip: Well, you knew Johnny Cochran. You saw him in practice. Is it over-glorified, like in “The People v. O.J. Simpson” on television?
Michael: I watched two episodes of that so far. If I can bear all the commercials, but it’s not that far off. I would just say this. Johnny was a little more humble than they make him out to be on that show. Unlike Willie Gary, Johnny is much more understated, more soft spoken, doesn’t sit at the head of the table, but very witty, very funny guy and just great personality.
Phillip: Well talk about being humble, I mean, my goodness. I didn’t know this. You didn’t tell me anything. I had to find out on my own. I mean, my goodness, from issues regarding Gloria and Emilio Estefan to of course Jennifer Lopez, Bob Marley, working with his family against his family. I mean my goodness and even organizations from Hewlett Packard to Warner Brothers to even Universal Music, Universal Studios. I mean I could go on and on. 50 Cent, Timbaland. I mean, my goodness, you are the go-to guy.
Michael: We’re a combination of transactional and litigation, so it often gets us on different sides of different issues, and because of the entertainment component to our practice we sometimes cross names like that. Sometimes these celebrities are our clients, and sometimes they’re our adversaries.
With the Bob Marley example, that’s very timely because the reggae festival that his mother started is this Saturday in Miami, if I can plug the festival.
Michael: But they’ve raised a lot of money for hungry families through that festival. But in that case I actually represented one faction of the Marley family against another faction of the Marley family. My clients were the side of Bob Marley’s mother and her other son, who was Bob Marley’s brother — his name is Richard Booker, who lives right here in South Florida — against Bob Marley’s wife and daughter. About three-quarters of the way through the litigation, before trial, we were able to bring both factions of the family together in a second mediation, and we finally brought peace to the family and now . . .
Phillip: Well I’m sure his estate’s worth millions. They even have a Marley Farm. They have products that still sell. You can even get the iced tea at the local convenience stores as well.
Gary: Phil I have a question. You know, we often hear about, we spoke about it actually I think last time you were on, patent trolls. Is there any other type of like people that abuse the intellectual property laws like that?
Michael: Well, they’re starting to use the term “trademark trolls” also, for the same reason. I think and this is my opinion, from someone who does this from a litigation standpoint, I think there’s a huge wave towards overcompensating for patent trolls, and I think what’s behind it are very large companies that get sued hundreds and hundreds of times a year for what are very costly cases. Patent litigation is some of the most costly litigation you can get involved in because of the experts needed. There’s a whole extra phase of the case in federal court called the Markman hearing. That’s like a little case within a case.
These companies are really pushing to try to limit the number of lawsuits they get hit with, but I think we’ve gone too far. Florida has passed a Patent Troll Act also, which in my opinion was completely unnecessary because there’s enough in the federal law to protect against legitimately frivolous lawsuits.
The hurdles for a small inventor, a small patent owner, to actually bring a case to trial are enormous. There’s already a huge advantage that companies like Apple have against a small inventor who might have come up with one of the 190 features on this phone I’m holding right now.
Charles: Yeah, it seems like you always say, when you see it in the news, it’s Samsung versus Apple or big player versus big player. You’ve got two sumo wrestlers fighting, and it does seem like the little guy is getting left out. Now you’re saying actually that it’s even harder.
Phillip: We only have one minute left. So one thing I want to bring out was in the news regarding limits on copyright attorney’s fees. Is that actually something that can pass? Will pass? I don’t think that’s fair. To me, it’s not constitutional to tell a man what he can make.
Michael: The law that’s specific to the Copyright Act, copyright attorney’s fees are not always awarded to the prevailing party in a copyright infringement case. It’s within the judge’s discretion, and there’s a very thick body of case law to help us argue those cases as to when attorney’s fees are appropriate and when they’re not. We also have Rule 11 for the completely frivolous cases, also to protect against that. Attorney’s fees, in the Copyright Act, can be awarded to a plaintiff or a defendant as a prevailing party.
Phillip: I’m glad that you cleared that up, and as always I wish we had more time, but I do want to invite you to come back on because you’re actually going to do some work for our show. And so when you come back on, I want you to report about what you did for us and how you found, and hopefully you find it easy, but I’m hoping that you find some interesting things to report back to us regarding some copyright issues and trademark.
Michael: I like what you’re doing here, and I’ll help out when I can.
Phillip: Appreciate it. Appreciate it.
Gary: Thank you so much
Charles: Much obliged
Phillip: Mike Santucci of Santucci, and is it Priore?
Michael: You got it.
Phillip: Hey, nobody’s going to do a drink on me. We appreciate you coming on. The best phone number I have is 954-351-7474.
Michael: That’s it.
Phillip: And intellectual property, business law, civil litigation, and of course entertainment law. Quite approachable. As a matter of fact you have such an easy website. It really is. What is it?
Michael: 500law.com. 500law.com. Easy.
Phillip: And that’s the best way to find you as well.
Michael: Thank you.
Phillip: Appreciate you coming on. We’re going to be coming up with this week’s legal news in review. Charles.