The Writers Guild has asked the judge assigned to its civil suit against the four major packaging agencies to consider recusing himself because his wife once worked for Endeavor before its 2009 merger with the William Morris Agency. That merger created WME, which is a defendant in the suit along with CAA, UTA and ICM Partners.
In a letter sent Monday to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marc Gross (read it here), the WGA said that it wishes “to inform the Court of two facts that may be relevant in considering whether recusal is warranted here” – that his wife not only once worked for Endeavor but subsequently worked at two production companies – Turner Network Television and GK-tv – that might have paid packaging fees to talent agencies.
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“If those companies paid packaging fees to employee representatives,” WGA attorney P. Casey Pitts wrote to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marc Gross, “the payments would arguably constitute a violation” of the plaintiff’s theory that challenges “the defendant agencies’ practice of receiving substantial packaging fees from the production companies that employ their clients.”
The letter adds: The plaintiffs contend that the payment of these fees creates a conflict of interest between the agencies and their writer clients in violation of the agencies’ fiduciary duty to their clients and that the payment of such fees is an unfair business practice prohibited by California Business and Professions Code § 17200 because accepting such payments violates the agencies’ fiduciary obligations to their clients; because this practice deprives writers of loyal, conflict-free representation; diverts compensation away from the writers and other creative talent that are responsible for creating valuable television and film properties, and undermines the market for writers’ creative endeavors; and because the agencies’ receipt of such payments is prohibited by § 302 of the federal Labor-Management Relations Act.”
“One of the three independent and alternative bases for the plaintiffs’ claim,” Pitts wrote to the judge, “is that the payment of packaging fees violates the LMRDA,” which “makes it a crime for an employer to make payments to any representative of any of his employees, while Section 302(b) makes it a crime for any person to receive a payment prohibited by Section 302(a).
“Although the plaintiffs’ theory in this case is that the defendant agencies received payments in violation of Section 302(b), a finding in plaintiffs’ favor on that issue would necessarily suggest that the production companies that paid those fees had violated Section 302(a).
“We bring this to the Court’s attention because plaintiffs’ understanding is that, since leaving Endeavor Talent Agency, the Court’s spouse has been employed by at least two different production companies, Turner Network Television/TNT and GK-tv. If those companies paid packaging fees to employee representatives, the payments would arguably constitute a violation of Section 302 under plaintiffs’ theory.”
The guild’s attorney concluded by thanking the judge “for considering this information,” and asked that “if this Court concludes that recusal is warranted, it would be helpful for the Court to make that decision on or before Thursday, May 2, 2019.”
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