Most of Hollywood has started to shut down today for the Labor Day weekend but the legal war between UTA and CAA over the former’s “illegal” snaring of five senior CAA comedy agents and many of their clients back in March 2015 will continue – probably behind closed doors.
A L.A. Superior judge this morning reiterated her tentative ruling of last month to grant CAA’s motion to stay the case until “arbitration is resolved.” In a hearing at the Santa Monica Courthouse on Friday, Judge Nancy Newman said “I have reviewed further briefing and it has not changed my tentative.” However, Judge Newman did not formally make the ruling, saying that she will issue her final decision after Labor Day.
The somewhat testy judge held back on the ruling two weeks ago after UTA lawyers expressed a desire to submit more briefs in the matter. That subsequent August 22 filing saw just a couple of pages added to material UTA had previously presented to the court. The other side made damn sure to note that in a filing of their own. “Defendant’s failure to add anything new to the points and authorities they filed prior to the August 12, 2016 hearing before this Court amounts to a concession that the Motion should be granted,” said CAA in a reply filed on August 29. Despite urgings by CAA attorneys, Judge Newman said Friday she would not put sanctions against UTA.
“We think these defendants should have the right to defend themselves in this court,” said UTA lead lawyer Bryan Freedman today after the judge made her ruling. “The only fair way to do that is to allow them to bring their claims under the LLC agreement,” Freeman told the judge in reference to the argument that the deals between the agents and CAA were not terminated properly. “The two are tied together under a notion of justice and fairness,” he added.
The ongoing but somewhat stalled arbitration in question here being overseen by former Gibson, Dunn & Crutche partner and JAMS VP Richard Chernick deals with ex-CAA agents Jason Heyman, Martin Lesak and Nick Nuciforo. UTA have contended that the trio of “non-Gregs,” as lawyers have taken to calling them, were fully within their rights to exit CAA last spring under “the seven-year rule” of employment contracts. The latter uber-agency say the rule doesn’t apply here and have been touting a tentative ruling by Chernick back in the spring of this year that supported that contention.
However, that potentially vital ruling has never been made definitive as issues in the court case of against UTA and ex-CAA agents Greg Cavic and Greg McKnight, who were not under contract to the agency at the time, have seemingly overlapped. The April 1 arbitration has also been stymied, sources say, because Chernick has asked for further discovery on the matter of the non-Gregs, essentially kneecapping his own tentative ruling. While there have been several depositions in the matter in the past two weeks, currently there are no hearings or anything else scheduled in the arbitration but discovery matters – though that may change based on today’s ruling by Judge Newman.
To further muddy matters in the increasing personal and murky court case, which CAA initiated on April 2 last year, UTA are looking to have a new arbitrator brought in. The desire for a former judge is simply because UTA don’t like the way Chernick has ruled against them, CAA lawyers have said in court. The once Mike Ovitz and Ron Meyer run agency has also promised in court that they will only go after the 2-Gregs for interference. “We’ll stipulate that we’re not going to sue Cavic and McKnight for breach of contract because we don’t contend they had any contractual obligations they breached,” said CAA’s main lawyer Tony Oncidi of L.A. firm Proskauer Rose LLP at the August 12 hearing.
Bryan Freedman, Sean Hardy and Brian Turnauer of Freedman + Taitelman, LLP are representing UTA. Miles Feldman of Raines Feldman LLP and Rich Frey from Venable LLP are also working for the agency in the matter. (Full disclosure: Freedman + Taitlman LLP have represented Deadline’s parent company PMC in various legal matters.)