The future of part of best-selling author Tom Clancy's publishing empire is in the hands of a Calvert County Circuit Court judge, who may decide within a week whether Clancy's ex-wife should take over management of a lucrative paperback book series.
Wanda T. King, Clancy's wife of almost 30 years before their divorce in 1999, claimed in a lawsuit filed last summer that the author and Calvert County resident wants to derail the side project published under his name, thus significantly reducing the value of assets she retained as part of their divorce settlement.
Clancy's attorneys have said in court papers that the author wants out of "Tom Clancy's Op-Center," a paperback book series that carries Clancy's imprimatur and is written by writer-for-hire Jeff Rovin.
Clancy, 57, who has written several best-selling "techno-thrillers" since 1983, said the books compete with the novels that he writes and are "detrimental to his literary reputation," according to court filings.
In court papers, King's attorneys say that Clancy does not own the name Tom Clancy's Op-Center because the mark was not his from the outset and that the Op-Center property has always been a partnership asset. Even if he did own it, King's lawyers say, he lost control over the mark once it developed commercial value.
Shelia K. Sachs, one of King's attorneys, declined to comment when contacted last week. Clancy's attorney, J. Stephen McAuliffe III, also declined to comment.
According to court filings, Clancy first became interested in the Op-Center project in 1993, and it was to be produced as an NBC television miniseries. The stories would center on the Op-Center, a fictional U.S. covert operations team given secret missions to defuse international crises.
But the miniseries fell through, and Clancy signed an agreement with Steve R. Pieczenik, a former State Department official and owner of S and R Literary, the firm that produces the books: They would use the cachet of the author's name to market a paperback series written by lesser-known authors.
Clancy's attorneys said the author was very careful when he agreed to do the Op-Center project and left himself a way out. In the contract, signed by Clancy and Pieczenik, the author insisted on a clause allowing him to "preclude the use of Tom Clancy's name and likeness in connection with a given book in the series," according to court filings.
Clancy signed the contract on behalf of Jack Ryan Limited Partnership (JRLP), a business venture in which King owns 50 percent, a result of the couple's divorce settlement. King still keeps the financial books and pays the bills for the partnership, while Clancy maintains decision-making power.
King has a 25 percent stake in profits from the series. Clancy also owns 25 percent of the series; S and R Literary has a 50 percent stake.
In October 2001, Clancy asked Pieczenik to remove his name from future books in the Op-Center series. King said she was not consulted.
In July 2003, King, a lifelong Calvert County resident, responded by filing a civil suit. She not only asked that the court rule that Clancy does not own the mark Tom Clancy's Op-Center, but that Clancy be removed from decisions involving Op-Center and that she be installed as managing partner in his place.
In December, Circuit Court Judge Warren J. Krug ruled that Clancy's right to withhold his name from the project was not a "clear-cut matter of law" and allowed the lawsuit to proceed to trial, which took place Aug. 23 and 24. Krug must now determine whether Clancy breached his responsibilities to the partnership and whether King should be installed as the managing partner. Court officials said Krug said he should have a decision by Sept. 20.
Eleven Op-Center books have been published since 1995. Another is scheduled for publication next summer.
All the books have been international bestsellers. As of July 2003, court filings say that Clancy and King each received more than $6.3 million from the sale of the Op-Center books and audio rights.