One of the great literary guilty pleasures of the late 1980s and the early 1990s was an irreverent monthly magazine titled "Spy."

The publication, which from its inaugural issue adopted a take-no-prisoners attitude, specialized in skewering the foppish and me-first members of society, government, media and the arts.

Each issue included such features as an insider's account of what went on behind closed doors at The New York Times, and like any gifted raconteur -- whether verbal or in print -- provided embarrassing anecdotes about such figures as the megalomaniac host of NBC's "The Apprentice," Donald Trump, on whom it bestowed the beloved moniker "the short fingered vulgarian from Queens."

Another favorite whipping boy of Spy's editorial staff was the now-contrite former Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz, or, as he was endearingly referred to within Spy's pages "Mike the Manipulator."

Ovitz, whose accomplishments include founding the powerful Creative Artists Agency and foisting the thespian talents of Steven Seagal on the American public, spent the better part of last week being grilled in a small Delaware Chancery Court, rather than lunching at The Ivy or some similar A-list establishment.

Ovitz is one in a cast of characters embroiled in a seven-year-old shareholder suit filed against the Walt Disney Co. over a $140 million severance package given to Ovitz, who served for exactly 14 months as president of the entertainment and theme park conglomerate.

At issue is whether the board of directors at Disney -- of which Ovitz was himself a member -- breached their fiduciary duty by not carefully examining both Ovitz's exorbitant pay package and the "no-fault" termination clause that ultimately led to the severance largesse when Ovitz departed in 1996.

The shareholders claim that Ovitz should have been fired and therefore rendered ineligible for the mega-jackpot.

Ovitz, for his part, spent two days claiming that he would have done more during his brief tenure, but was "sabotaged" by Disney chairman Michael Eisner and several senior executives.

I for one could argue that Ovitz sabotaged the entire action genre with the introduction of Seagal, but I digress.

Meanwhile, Disney shareholders seized on an audit report that said that Ovitz's spendthrift ways were reflected in a $2 million bill for the design and construction of his offices at Disney.

Ovitz in turn has denied it.


Last June, a Delaware judge ruled that officers and directors of companies, who possess a "specialized expertise or knowledge," can bear the brunt of liability in cases of corporate fraud or litigation similar to the Disney suit.

And you don't have to write legal opinions to forecast that the Disney verdict will probably establish a strong precedent in future shareholder suits.

Ovitz for one is probably wondering where the hell is Steven Seagal when you really need him?

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