Barbie, as in Barbie Doll, has been in the news a great deal lately; however, this may be the most expensive Barbie I’ve read about in a long time. This case deals with a federal appellate court supporting sanctions in excess of a half million dollars against a Los Angeles lawyer who “hurled Barbies around a conference room when shown that a copyright claim he filed against Barbie and her maker, Mattel Toy Company, was baseless.” An attorney named Hicks brought a lawsuit on behalf of a man named Harry Christian whose daughter, a USC student, created a doll named Claudene in 1991 and obtained a copyright for Claudene in 1997. Mr. Christian sued Mattel, his position being that, and I’m not making this up, “the head designs of numerous Barbies, including the Cool Blue Barbie, and Virginia Tech University Barbie, infringed on the Claudene doll copyright.”
As often happens, this led to a meeting among lawyers, and in this case, the meeting was videotaped. During the conference, the Mattel lawyers attempted to show Mr. Hicks that his lawsuit was frivolous, as their Barbie copyrights came through more than five years before the Claudene copyright was granted. In order to support that claim, the Mattel lawyers handed a Cool Blue Barbie and a Virginia Tech University Barbie to Mr. Hicks so that he could see the copyrights printed on the backs of their Barbie heads. Mr. Hicks refused to inspect the Barbies, and “hurled them in disgust from a conference table.”
The Mattel lawyers then asked for what are known as Rule 11 Sanctions, which give an attorney the opportunity to withdraw his lawsuit in order to avoid sanctions. Rather than withdrawing his complaint, Mr. Hicks began filing additional papers with increasing frequency. He filed a motion to obtain additional discovery, and before they knew it, the Mattel lawyers were receiving requests and notices from Mr. Hicks on a regular basis. Federal Court Judge Nora Manella granted the request for the Rule 11 Sanctions, indicating that this was clearly a frivolous lawsuit, and that Mr. Hicks was guilty of misconduct during the litigation, including the Barbie throwing incident.
This case has now been sent back to Judge Manella to reconsider whether the large dollar amount of the sanctions is reasonable or whether they should be reduced.
If there is an Attorney Barbie, perhaps she can help cooler heads to prevail in this matter. Unbelievable!
Charlie Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Unger, Danis & Grover, and a psychotherapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Development. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.