Charitable trust refiles 'Dukes' royalties lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 6:02 PM

A charitable trust set up by "The Dukes of Hazzard" creator has filed a new $15 million federal lawsuit against Warner Bros., claiming the studio and its television production company shortchanged it on royalties stemming from the hit series.

First National Bank in Sioux Falls, acting as trustee for Sequoia Charitable Trust, refiled its claim in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last week.

A federal judge had dismissed the bank's previous lawsuit in July on jurisdiction issues after the movie studio successfully argued that series creator Gy Waldron was seeking "a new audience for its old arguments" by setting up an out-of-state trust, assigning it royalty claim rights and then filing what had been a California case in federal court, according to court records.

In its new filing, the bank notes that Sequoia's trust agreement has since been modified in South Dakota to ensure that Waldron's family has no financial interest in the trust and its sole purpose is to benefit charity. That, the bank argues, gives the federal court jurisdiction since the plaintiff and defendant are in different states.

Lawyers for First National and Warner Bros. did not immediately return calls for comment.

"The Dukes of Hazzard," which ran on CBS from 1979 to 1985, featured cousins Bo and Luke Duke _ portrayed by John Schneider and Tom Wopat _ racing their 1969 "General Lee" Dodge Charger around the fictional Hazzard County, Ga., to avoid Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.

Waldron had pitched the idea, which was based on his 1975 film "Moonrunners," to Warner Bros. in 1978 and wrote and produced episodes of the series.

He set up the South Dakota trust in 2008 after suffering a major heart attack and assigned it any future claims against Warner Bros. He and the studio had reached a 1987 settlement that granted him $6.2 million and 6.5 percent of future earnings from the "Dukes" franchise above $293.6 million.

The new lawsuit claims Waldron is due royalties not only from the series, but also from any derivative works including television programs, films, video games, merchandising and soundtracks.

A 2005 feature film based on the series starred Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville and Jessica Simpson.

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Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc.