Risk Management

Disney’s Deeper Meaning

Chancery is proud of its time in the national spotlight.
Roy HarrisAugust 1, 2006

If Walt Disney Co. was the one facing a judge in Georgetown, Delaware, the court itself was also on trial in a way. In Chancellor William Chandler’s view, it acquitted itself quite well.

Over several months of 2004 and into 2005, the marathon case served “to demonstrate the Delaware Court of Chancery’s ability to manage a major corporate trial with immense media attention in accordance with our traditions,” says Chandler. “It also demonstrated that a trial of such significance could be managed efficiently, even in a small town like Georgetown. Indeed, I believe it could be managed better in Georgetown precisely because the people who live and work here are not distracted by the glitz and glamour that accompany the entertainment and media industry.”

Besides the small but elegant Georgetown courthouse in Sussex County, designed with Chandler’s input, the Court of Chancery operates another courthouse in the state capital and Kent County seat of Dover, and has its main New Castle County home in downtown Wilmington, a city of 100,000 just south of Philadelphia.

Still, in the chancellor’s view Disney was different “only because it involved an iconic American media-entertainment company [and] because it had such out-side personalities,” not only CEO Michael Eisner and departed president Michael Ovitz, but directors that included Sidney Poitier and former Senator George Mitchell, for example.” Also, it stood out because the payout involved “was of stupefying proportions,” Chandler says. “As for me, it really was just another day’s work. Well, more than just a day, several hundred days, perhaps.”