The Buzz

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So Mike Ovitz-once Hollywood's most uber of uber-agents and its savviest deal maker-can keep with a clean conscience his $140 million severance package from Walt Disney Co., which works out to $10 million for every month he held on to the title of president. (No mean feat considering CEO Michael Eisner was reported saying that the night he hired him, he told his wife he had just made the biggest mistake of his career, and two senior executives told Ovitz to his face they would not report to him.) Delaware judge William Chandler ruled last week that Disney's board did not breach its fiscal responsibilities by hiring and then firing Ovitz, though the directors' conduct "fell significantly short of the best practices of ideal corporate governance."

The trial laid bare some of the most fierce company politics ever subjected to public scrutiny. For Eisner, whose own departure from the Mouse House is approaching, the trial was an exercise in Talmudic parsing. He needed to make the argument that hiring Ovitz was a perfectly reasonable and responsible decision, as was firing him 14 months later. And that despite the facts laid out in the case that Ovitz did a spectacularly bad job as president, there was no legit reason to fire him for cause, thus the awarding of the severance package. Eisner wrote a memo in which he called Ovitz a "psychopath" who "cannot tell the truth." He also testified the "last straw" for him was Ovitz yelling at a driver to move his car outside of the funeral for Eisner's mother. Ovitz, we were told, also charged $4.8 million to his expense account.

Ovitz, in his defense, testified he was undermined by other executives and "micromanaged" by Eisner, who he also said sabotaged his efforts to acquire a stake in Yahoo. He may have won the court battle, and the PR battle, but what Ovitz lost in the long dragged-out fight with his former best friend and "brother" Eisner was his dignity. But then again, the Buzz knows plenty of people willing to lose their dignity for a lot less than $140 million.

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