NEW YORK — A small army of navy and charcoal suits was summoned unexpectedly by Judge Jeffrey Oing on Wednesday morning to clear up media reports swirling around the Macy’s Inc. versus Martha Stewart and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. lawsuit.
The last time the cavalry of lawyers entered the courtroom was Aug. 1, and that was to make closing arguments regarding whether Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. should be allowed to continue to design certain branded and unbranded home goods for Penney’s, even though it has a preexisting agreement to sell certain similar branded wares exclusively to Macy’s.
Oing has presided over the trial, which began in February, and has been deliberating over a ruling. On Wednesday, the judge said he needed some “clarification” on several recent stories he had read in The New York Post. The latest, on Tuesday, declared that Penney’s intended to drop Stewart’s collection altogether, essentially making any verdict a moot point. Both Penney’s and MSLO denied the story, dubbing it “exaggerated.”
A source with intimate knowledge of the situation put it bluntly: “It’s kind of ironic when you read in the paper that the line has been discontinued, and yet you have a plane ticket to come and see new product — I think that speaks for itself.”
The source confirmed reports that 10 Penney’s senior merchandising executives had been in Stewart’s office Tuesday, writing orders for fall 2014 branded products that were not part of Macy’s exclusive categories. That included soft and hard window treatments, hardware, lighting and area rugs. Team Stewart also presented “hundreds of designs” to buyers from Penney’s in what was described as a “congenial, very successful meeting.”
While it appears that MSLO’s relationship with Penney’s remains intact — after all, Penney’s owns 16.6 percent of the media and design firm — question marks still surround Stewart’s goods in exclusive categories.
“Obviously they [Penney’s] are realigning their home strategy and understanding that the brand [Martha Stewart] could not be the center of the home floor,” the source said, noting that in regard to future relationships between Penney’s and Stewart, “there have been no decisions made during the proceedings.”
The source added that MSLO’s relationship with Macy’s is “solid.”
Back in the courtroom, the lawyers chatted convivially about professional football and baseball following a 20-minute closed-door meeting with Oing, who emerged wearing a suit and tie, not his usual judge’s robes.
“I called a conference this morning for all parties, to get some information on what’s been out there in the media,” said the New York State court judge. “At this point, I’m going to go forward with issuing a decision in this matter that will hopefully come out in short time.”
Oing added that the parties could “do whatever they want to” in terms of negotiating, but his decision will come out and “they can act accordingly.”
Without giving a hint regarding the timing of a ruling, the judge turned before leaving, and said: “Always happy to see you folks.”