Michael D. Eisner, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, ended his fifth day on the stand in the shareholder lawsuit where he defended the hiring and firing of the former president, Michael S. Ovitz, once one of Hollywood’s most celebrated power brokers.
Mr. Eisner testified on Friday in the lawsuit filed seven years ago on behalf of Disney shareholders who contend that directors breached their fiduciary duty when Mr. Ovitz, a former Hollywood agent, was hired as president in 1995 and then fired 14 months later with a package valued at $140 million.
In a testy cross-examination by Steven Schulman, a lawyer representing shareholders, Mr. Eisner said that he did not recall or know of some instances when Mr. Ovitz said he acted on Disney’s behalf. Mr. Eisner did not recall, for example, if Mr. Ovitz came up with a specific proposal to acquire Putnam Publishing. Mr. Ovitz testified last month that he sought deals in several divisions.
At times Mr. Schulman seemed not only to frustrate Mr. Eisner, but also William B. Chandler III, the chancellor presiding over the trial. In the morning session, Mr. Schulman questioned Mr. Eisner about Mr. Ovitz’s state of mind in May 1996 after the two went to see the Broadway play “Rent,” a modern-day retelling of “La Bohème.” In earlier testimony, Mr. Eisner said he thought Mr. Ovitz was distraught.
When Mr. Schulman and Mr. Eisner got into a dispute over the show’s storyline (in “Rent” the characters are living in the shadow of AIDS), Mr. Chandler told the lawyer that he should move on. When Mr. Schulman did not, Mr. Eisner snapped at him: “I think we were told to move on. I’m not going to argue about AIDS.”
It was not the first time tempers flared. On Wednesday, Mr. Chandler called Mr. Schulman into his chambers after he and Mr. Eisner’s lawyer, Gary Naftalis, sparred over Mr. Schulman’s questions regarding a memorandum about Mr. Ovitz.
Mr. Eisner’s testimony throughout the five days, in which he said repeatedly that hiring Mr. Ovitz was a mistake, appeared to have all the elements of a Shakespearean drama. But it also had its poignant moments.
On Friday, Mr. Schulman asked Mr. Eisner if a memo he wrote on Dec. 26, 1995, about ethics was written with Mr. Ovitz in mind.
Mr. Eisner said no, instead he was musing about business during a holiday in Aspen, Colo.