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Trial sports a Disney look

Suit accuses media giant of stealing plans for complex

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The latest Walt Disney Co. production is not something the company wants a role in: a trial over a $1 billion lawsuit accusing the media giant of stealing plans for its sports complex at Walt Disney World.

The plot centers on two businessmen who contend that the 30-sport facility, which includes the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, is a carbon copy of plans they presented to Disney officials in the late 1980s.

Nicholas Stracick, a retired umpire, and business partner Edward Russell, a Canadian architect, testified that Disney officials were interested in their proposal in 1987 and surprised them when they rejected it two years later. They say Disney's Wide World of Sports, a yellow stucco complex, that opened in 1997, was based on those plans.

The two sued in federal court alleging copyright infringement, but the suit was thrown out. They refiled in state court alleging fraud, misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of confidentiality.

The cast of characters in the case, which could be decided by six jurors this week after almost a month of hearing testimony, is as colorful as a Disney tale.

Two of the nation's best-known attorneys, Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Willie Gary, represent Stracick, a crotchety ex-pro baseball umpire, and his mild-mannered business partner.

Reggie Williams, the former Cincinnati Bengals player and ex-city councilman, now heads the Disney sports complex. He's credited by Disney with shaping the plans for the facility, though defense attorneys say he's just a lackey who used stolen ideas.

And then there's the ex-Disney golf pro, Steve Wilson, a low-ranking member of the Disney hierarchy who opened the doors for Stracick and Russell to meet company officials. After the businessmen's plans were rejected and he was reprimanded for his association with them, Wilson was promoted to a leading role in the development of Disney's own sports complex.

Plaintiff attorneys are trying to show that Disney executives at the highest levels, including chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, knew about the plans. Eisner has denied the allegations in depositions but has not testified in court.

There is a remote chance the case might not reach the jury. At least two days of testimony and closing arguments are still ahead, and Disney and the plaintiffs could still settle.