Just days before the Big 4 agencies were facing a deadline to respond to the Writers Guild of America’s anti-packaging lawsuit filed last month, the guild amended its initial filing late Monday with a constructive fraud claim that was quickly repudiated by the Association of Talent Agents.
“This is a desperate attempt by the WGA to keep their utterly meritless legal battle alive,” a spokesperson for the ATA told Deadline tonight after the WGA filed to reload legally. ”Today’s action by the WGA is further evidence that Guild leadership had no intent to pursue a negotiated solution with the ATA, instead opting for a long and costly legal process that was completely avoidable.” (Read the full statement below.)
Coming out of talks that collapsed last month between the WGA and ATA over the lucrative and long-established practice of packaging and the thousands of guild members pink-slipping their agents in short order, the original lawsuit was put on the Los Angeles Superior Court docket on April 17.
Speaking for all the defendants at the time that same day, non-defendant the ATA and its executive director Karen Stuart called the original 25-page filing part of the WGA’s “predetermined path to chaos that never included any intention to negotiate.”
Tonight’s addition of the constructive fraud claim by the WGA came in part, I’m told, because defendants CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners are planning their own Spitfire court moves. Lawyers for all of the Big 4 made it clear in recent days to the guild that they intend to file motions to toss the case based on what they individually and collectively believe are serious flaws.
The WGA did not response to a request for comment by Deadline tonight on the new amendment in what is now a three-claim case.
Almost an oxymoron of sorts, the California law “breach of duty” definition of “constructive fraud” in the WGA’s now amended complaint is further cited as the “failure of a fiduciary to disclose a material fact to his principal that might affect the fiduciary’s motives or the principal’s decision constitutes constructive fraud, regardless of whether the fiduciary acted with fraudulent intent.”
That is a long-ish way of saying the WGA West, the WGA East and fellow plaintiffs like The Deuce EP David Simon believe that WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners didn’t tell their scribe clients they were on the prowl for a fat payout on specifically packaged projects – and that was wrong.
The other side sees it another way.
“The WGA’s litigation is a publicity stunt and now they are in strategic retreat,” said CAA’s counsel Richard Kendall in an additional statement tonight sideswiping the guild’s legal position. “This amendment will delay, but not avoid, the court’s anticipated dismissal of the WGA’s case,” the Kendall Brill & Kelly partner added. “Then, one hopes, the parties will return to the bargaining table, where they belong.”
As the traditional methods of representation and, let’s be honest, the business of show business start to fray, the two sides haven’t formally sat down in well over a month. The next hearing in the case isn’t scheduled until October 21, which doesn’t exactly reek of urgency.
In that context, here is the full ATA statement:
This is a desperate attempt by the WGA to keep their utterly meritless legal battle alive. Today’s action by the WGA is further evidence that Guild leadership had no intent to pursue a negotiated solution with the ATA, instead opting for a long and costly legal process that was completely avoidable.
It is ironic that the Guild is accusing these agencies of fraud when in reality, it is Guild leadership who have misled their members into believing they are trying to make a deal. Unfortunately, it’s those members who will be footing this bill with their own membership dues, and who will have to continue without agent representation.
Despite the Guild’s tactics, we remain committed to a solution for writers and agents. We are still waiting for a formal counteroffer from the Guild, and urge writers to ask their leadership to come back to the table.