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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Plot Thickens in Rin Tin Tin Case

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A retired stuntman who claims rights to Rin Tin Tin has turned on his former co-plaintiffs in their intellectual property battle, claiming they defrauded him of his 100 percent stake in the property and froze him out of legal proceedings.

Max Kleven claimed exclusive intellectual property rights for Rin Tin Tin and sued dog breeder Daphne Hereford for $5 million in 2013, alleging copyright infringement, unfair competition, trademark infringement and other counts.

Along with Rin Inc., Kleven accused Hereford, Texas-based Rin Tin Tin Inc., and pet supply company Belleair Trading International of "hijacking" the Rin Tin Tin mark, and using unlawful trademark registrations to sell clothing, dog accessories, children's books and other products.

In December last year, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte presided over a one-day trial . But before Birotte issued a ruling, Kleven on Feb. 3 filed an unopposed motion to dismiss the case.

Kleven said then that he would take action to rescind joint venture agreements and a deal memo with his co-plaintiffs, Rin Inc. and Shamrock Entertainment.

In his Feb. 9 lawsuit in Superior Court, Kleven made good on that promise.

He alleges fraud, elder financial abuse, legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty against Rin and its principals Sasha Jenson, Casey La Scala, and Jeff Miller; Shamrock principal James Tierney; attorney David Gernsbacher; and Graham Kaye.

In the 10-page filing, Kleven describes what he says was going on behind the scenes in his court battle with Hereford.

Kleven says he was 80 years old in 2013 when Jenson proposed a joint venture so that Jenson and Casey La Scala could write a Rin Tin Tin screenplay.

At that meeting, Kleven says, he told Jenson about the "complicated IP litigation." He claims that Jenson said he knew an attorney who could take on the case, which Kleven says was distracting him from building and running his restaurant.

Kleven says he later agreed to terms that would give Jenson, La Scala and Miller a 50 percent stake in a joint venture for the intellectual property. In exchange, he says, they were to give him $1 million. He says he signed the agreement on Feb. 1, 2013.

However, according to the new lawsuit, "In fact, the joint venture did not memorialize the original terms, and instead immediately assigned a 50 percent interest in the IP in equal shares to defendants Jenson, La Scala and Miller based upon a future payment of $1 million."

Kleven claims that Jenson, La Scala and Miller later persuaded him that they should be parties to the federal trademark case against Hereford. Shamrock later intervened.

Kleven says that after he paid Gernsbacher $5,000 to represent him, the attorney and Miller drove to his home and told him they needed him to sign a deal memo as part of the litigation.

The former stuntman says that under the memo's terms a new company would be formed that would reduce his stake in Rin Tin Tin intellectual property to 17 percent and grant rights to Shamrock, Gernsbacher and Kaye after the case was over.

Kleven says he signed the deal memo "under duress" and "without understanding" the document. At the time of the meeting, he did not have his glasses, hearing aid and "could not read or hear," he claims.

During the one-day trial on Dec. 2, 2014 in Birotte's courtroom in downtown L.A., Kleven says his co-plaintiffs tried to exclude him from proceedings.

Things got so bad, Kleven says, that he wrote to Judge Birotte to voice his concerns and hired his own attorney to "negotiate his entry" into the judge's courtroom.

Kleven seeks compensatory and punitive damages, restitution and rescission of the agreements.

According to court records, Kleven has claimed ownership of copyrights and trademarks to the fictional Rin Tin Tin, created by the German Shepherd's owner, Lt. Lee Duncan, who found the dog in a litter of puppies when he served in France during World War I.

After the war, Duncan took the dog to the United States and wrote a screenplay, "Where North Begins," that starred Rin Tin Tin and reportedly helped save Warner Bros. from going under.

Duncan later paired up with producer Herbert Leonard to produce the 1950s television show, "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin."

After Duncan died, his wife handed the rights to Leonard, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, and assigned his rights and trademarks to Rin Tin Tin to Kleven, a friend and stuntman who had appeared in "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," according to court records.

The original Rin Tin Tin died in 1932 and was replaced by two successor dogs, Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rin Tin Tin III.

Hereford claims she breeds dogs descended from the canine movie star, who appeared in more than 27 movies in Tinseltown. She owns a Rin Tin Tin museum with 800 pieces of memorabilia in Crockett, Texas.

Last week, Judge Birotte ordered the parties in the federal case to determine if Kleven's proposed rescission of the agreement affects Rin and Shamrock's standing to pursue the claims in Federal Court.

In a joint status report to the court on Monday, Rin and Shamrock asserted that they still have standing to pursue the claims and intend to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law this week.

Kleven is represented in Superior Court by Catherine R. Lombardo of Claremont.

Lombardo said she did not know whether Kleven plans to pursue another court action against Hereford. She said she was focused on the Superior Court complaint, which "speaks for itself."

Gernsbacher did not respond to requests for comment.

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