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Columbo Update-BKCG Files Opening Brief in Court of Appeal

As many of our readers know, in 2019 BKCG won a $70 million judgment for the creators of the epic television series Columbo. In December 2019 that judgment was vacated by the trial court, which ordered a partial new trial on a key issue of contract interpretation. BKCG appealed that order to the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate district.

In January 2021 BKCG filed its Appellants’ Opening Brief, which can be viewed or downloaded from here. The Defendant Universal City Studios will file its Respondent’s Brief combined with its cross-appeal Opening Brief in April. BKCG will then file its final brief with the Court of Appeal in June. Universal’s Reply Brief is expected to be filed by August 2021, at which point the case will be ready for oral argument before a panel of four appellate justices from the Court of Appeal’s Division 8.

The de novo standard of review for the primary issue- contract interpretation – is the most favorable one available to an appellant. BKCG expects the Court of Appeal to reinstate the $70 million judgment and to also order the trial court to reconsider an additional $40 million of claims that were presented to accounting referees without properly instructing the accounting referees that the burden of proof was shifted to Universal.

The case stemmed from an agreement Universal made with Plaintiffs in which Universal promised to pay them 10% of the net profits from the television series Columbo. Although the series generated almost $600 million, Universal paid Plaintiffs less than $5 million. BKCG successfully argued that net profits were artificially depressed through Universal’s practice of “Hollywood accounting”, including arbitrary fees that were bore no relation to any actual cost or expense, plus imputed interest added to the alleged deficit caused by the made-up expenses.

If the judgment is reinstated, it will have earned interest at 10% per year for the duration of the appeal, adding as much as $15 million to the award.