Stung by the largest jury verdict ever levied at an entertainment company, Walt Disney Co. is filing an appeal this week with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach. Disney will ask for a reduction of the Aug. 11, $240 million award to All Pro Sports Camp Inc. and a new trial.

A six-person jury found Disney stole All Pro’s 1987 plans for a 30-sports amphitheater and then built the 150-acre, $203 million Wide World of Sports attraction at its Lake Buena Vista site in 1997. Disney assesses the project’s hard costs at $103 million and the land at $100 million. The price equates to $66,667 per acre or $1.53 psf.

After a four-week trial in Orlando’s Orange Circuit Court before Judge Ted Coleman, Disney was found guilty of stealing trade secrets, breaking an implied contract, misrepresentation and breaching a confidential relationship. But the company was found not guilty of fraud.

Although Disney is asking for a reduction of the $240 million award, the judge could triple the amount to $720 million because jurors decided Disney’s conduct was willful and malicious. The six-year legal battle began in 1994.

The case drew instant public attention when the plaintiffs hired high-profile criminal defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran and Stuart civil attorney Willie Gary. The lawyers were asking for $1.4 billion in total damages, an amount equal to Disney’s fiscal 1999 profit on revenue of $23.4 billion.

Cochran and Gary took the case on a contingency basis. Lawyers close to the case tell the split was about 60-40–60% of a directed verdict amount going to the plaintiffs ; 40% to the lawyers. If they lost, Cochran and Gary would have received nothing. Insiders tell Disney had rejected a $100 million settlement offer hours before the jury began its 12 hours of deliberation.

All Pro principals are Nicholas Stracick, a retired minor baseball league umpire and former process server in Buffalo, N.Y., and Canadian Edward Russell, a Cornell University architectural graduate. Disney doesn’t deny having met with the plaintiffs in 1987, but argues it rejected their plans and went on to build Wide World of Sports from original drawings.

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