One Trial to Rule Them All

Tolkien trust claims studio owes millions

Heirs of  "Lord of the Rings" creator J.R.R. Tolkien  won two victories in court today in a lawsuit against New Line Cinema over profits from the "LOTR" film trilogy.

Officials of the Tolkien charitable trust officials allege New Line cheated the trust out of at least $220 million from the blockbuster movies based on the late British author's books.

The London-based Tolkien Trust filed its lawsuit in February 2008. 

The most significant ruling for the Tolkien heirs during today's hearing came when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones was unswayed by defense arguments that the nature of all the lawsuit's claims were such that she could consider them, instead of a jury.

The judge said she does not want to get reversed if an appellate court decides that even one small issue should have gone before a jury.

"Then guess what, I get the whole (case) back," Jones said.

Jones also denied -- for now -- an alternative defense motion asking that she hear and decide some of the claims before letting the rest go before a jury.

"I am reluctant to do something serially that I can do simultaneously,'' Jones said. "I do not want these (witnesses) to come back

However, the judge said she was leaving open the door to possibly changing her mind later and splitting the trial -- now set for Oct. 19 -- into two phases if she is persuaded to do so by defense lawyers.

Jones' rulings mean the trial will proceed like most trials do, said Bonnie E. Eskenazi, an attorney for the Tolkien trust.

Members of the trust also are alleging breach of contract and asking for declaratory relief and an accounting of profits.

They maintain that under a 1969 contract with the studio, which held the original rights to the work, the trust and other plaintiffs are entitled to 7.5 percent of gross receipts from the films and related products, minus certain costs.

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