WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - An attempt by SunTrust Banks Inc. to repossess drawings of Mickey Mouse from a cartoon museum has been thwarted by a Florida circuit judge.
The banking company, trying to collect on $1.1 million lent to the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Fla., will not be allowed to seize the pencil sketches - the oldest existing drawings of Mickey - and move them to another museum, Judge Walter N. Colbath of the 15th Judicial Circuit of Florida ruled.
The 36 drawings of the Walt Disney Co. character, estimated by SunTrust to be worth $3.1 million, will remain in the museum accompanied by signs noting the banking company's ownership.
"Without question, a physical move would be expensive and potentially damaging," Judge Colbath's order said.
The drawings were created in 1927 by Ub Iwerks, an early Walt Disney collaborator, and served as the storyboard for the animated film "Plane Crazy."
The museum, started by Mort Walker, creator of newspaper cartoon strips such as "Beetle Bailey" and "Hi and Lois," opened its Boca Raton building in 1996 after two decades in Rye Brook, N.Y., and Greenwich, Conn., where it was founded.
SunTrust's $3 million loan helped fund the $15 million construction of the Mediterranean-style museum building. The museum ran into trouble when talks broke down with a local university that had been expected to provide financing.
The banking company does not plan to appeal the decision. It is still waiting for the museum to arrange financial aid, and Mr. Walker says he is considering "four or five hopeful" saviors.
The fight for the drawings raises a question for the Atlanta banking company: At what point does it forgive a loan and write it off as charity? The answer: It does not do such things.
"We've made our donations," said Carolyn Gosselin, a SunTrust spokeswoman in Orlando. "We're not going to do anything to harm the pieces. We recognize the historical value, and they are our collateral."
The battle between the bank and the museum has caught the attention of Floridians, who can thank Mickey and Disney's theme park in Orlando for supporting a large chunk of the state's economy.