UPDATED with WGA statement: The WGA and the Big 3 talent agencies have agreed to try to resolve their ongoing legal dispute through mediation – a standard procedure ordered by the presiding judge that doesn’t signify a breakthrough in the case, in which each side is accusing the other of antitrust violations over packaging fees.
“The court rules require the parties in every case to designate a mediator,” a WGA source said. “We agreed on Gail Title. There is no plan to conduct a mediation, and no party is suggesting that mediation would be helpful at this point.”
In a court filing today, attorneys for both sides agreed that neutral attorney Gail Migdal Title will serve as the panel mediator in the case. “Counsel for plaintiffs and counsel for defendants & counterclaimants (have) contacted the Panel Mediator and obtained the Panel Mediator’s consent to serve on a pro bono basis for three (3) hours,” according to stipulation regarding selection of panel mediator. Both sides have agreed that the yet-to-be-scheduled mediation will be held sometime this year, and that “counsel will submit mediation statements seven (7) calendar days before the session.”
The federal court in Los Angeles offers three Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) options: 1) a settlement conference with the district judge assigned to the case; 2) a mediation with a neutral selected from the Court Mediation Panel; and 3) private mediation. According to the Court’s website, “Unless exempted by the trial judge, the parties in every civil case must participate in one of these three ADR Procedures.” In this case, the parties have agreed to try the second option.
Title is currently a full-time neutral on the ADR Services, Inc. panel of neutrals. She also serves on the mediation panel for the United States District Court for the Central District of California and arbitration and mediation panels of the American Arbitration Association. A leading entertainment lawyer for over two decades, she’s a former managing partner of the LA law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman, representing clients in a wide range of entertainment law, including profit participation accounting, production, distribution, copyright and other intellectual property matters.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. denied the WGA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuits brought by WME, CAA and UTA. He has yet to rule, however, on the agencies’ motion to dismiss the WGA’s suit against them. If he denies the agencies’ motion to dismiss, the case is scheduled for trial in March of 2021.
The WGA is currently involved in a 10-month standoff with the major agencies. Last April, the guild ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign its Code of Conduct, which banned packaging fees and agency affiliations with corporately related production and distribution entities. That code has since been modified by the guild to allow all signers to continue packaging until July 15, 2021 – and even longer if two of the Big 4 agencies don’t cave and accept the guild’s terms. To date, the Big 4 packaging agencies – WME, CAA, UTA, and ICM Partners – have shown no indication they’re going to sign. The guild’s new franchise agreement also allows signatories to own up to 5% of an affiliated production entity.
Several mid-tier agencies have signed, including, Innovative Artists, Gersh, APA, Abrams Artists, Buchwald, the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston agency, the Kaplan Stahler Agency, and Verve.