The WGA, claiming that the judge assigned to its lawsuit against Hollywood’s Big 4 talent agencies is “prejudiced,” has used its one and only preemptory challenge and had him removed from the case.
The guild had asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marc Gross to voluntarily recuse himself from the case earlier this week, but when he did not, the WGA exercised its right to get a new judge.
The guild had asked Gross to recuse 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. The guild also noted that the judge’s wife had previously worked at two production companies – Turner Network Television and GK-tv – that might have paid packaging fees to talent agencies.
“If those companies paid packaging fees to employee representatives,” WGA attorney P. Casey Pitts wrote to 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 WGA gave the judge until Thursday to recuse himself, but when he didn’t, the guild’s attorneys filed their preemptory challenge, which states: “The judicial officer named above,” the guild said in its preemptory challenge, “before whom the trial of, or a hearing in, this case is pending, or to whom it has been assigned, is prejudiced against the party (or his or her attorney) or the interest of the party (or his or her attorney), so that the declarant cannot, or believes that he or she cannot, have a fair and impartial trial or hearing before the judicial officer.”
CAA, in its own letter to the judge on Wednesday, scoffed at the legal theory of the guild’s argument for recusal. “The WGA’s theory could require the recusal of any judge who personally worked for or represented – or had a spouse, a family member, or a close friend who worked for or represented – any film or entertainment studio, talent agency, as well as arguably any entertainment law firm or talent management company,” CAA attorney Richard B. Kendall wrote in a letter to Gross.
“That would require the recusal of a significant portion of the bench in the Los Angeles Superior Court,” Kendall told the judge. “Perhaps that is the WGA’s goal – to ensure that no judge on the bench may hear its case who has any prior familiarity with the issues the WGA’s case raises. But such a broad-sweeping, frivolous theory is not a reasonable basis for recusal under Code of Civil Procedure.”
The WGA, he told the judge, “cannot procure recusal by frivolously charging the entertainment industry as a whole with a ‘crime’ and seeking recusal of any judge with a connection to the entertainment industry.”
No word yet on which judge will now be assigned to the case, but the defendant agencies will now have one preemptory challenge, if they chose to use it.