EXCLUSIVE: The WGA racked up more than $4.6 million in legal bills to win its historic victory over the major talent agencies.
The nearly two-year-long legal battle, which began in April 2019 and ended in February 2021, will phase out packaging fees by June 2022 and limit a franchised agency and its owners to owning no more than a 20% stake in a production or distribution entity.
WGA leaders maintained throughout the protracted court battle that those practices create a conflict of interest that puts the interests of the agencies above those of their clients. WGA members agreed, with more than 7,000 writers firing their agents en masse in a show of union solidarity during the early days of the dispute.
Financial reports the WGA West filed with the U.S. Department of Labor over the past two years show that it paid the San Francisco-based Altshuler Berzon law firm a total of $2,612,375 to lead the court fight; $1,685,222 in legal services to the Constantine Cannon law firm; and another $305,121 in professional services to the Rothner, Segall & Greenstone firm – for a total of $4,602,718.
Part of that $4.6 million – about $700,000 – was covered by the WGA East, whose financial reports show that it gave the WGA West nearly $460,000 to reimburse it for “legal fees for representational activities” over the past year, and another $240,000 the year before, for a total of $695,414. The WGA East made no other similar legal payments to the WGA West in the 10 years prior the start of the agency campaign.
The WGA was represented in the case by Stephen P. Berzon, Stacey Leyton, P. Casey Pitts and Rebecca C. Lee of the Altshuler Berzon firm; W. Stephen Cannon and Ethan E. Litwin of the Constantine Cannon firm; and Anthony R. Segall and Juhyung Harold Lee of Rothner Segall & Greenstone.
The WGA says that agreement with the agencies, which also requires the agencies to turn over information about their writer-clients’ contracts, invoices, deal memos and compensation, is already paying dividend for writers.
“Over the past year, in addition to pursuing claims brought to our attention from writers and other sources, the Legal Department has continued to use information provided by franchised agencies to help with Minimum Basic Agreement enforcement and address late pay, in particular,” the WGA West told its members recently. “Since April 2019, Legal has pursued more than 200 additional cases resulting from information sharing with agencies. Because of this additional information, we anticipate that we will continue to successfully collect interest on behalf of writers, and ultimately improve studios’ problematic payment practices, as well.”
Overall, the WGA West’s legal department collected nearly $13 million for members last year – and another $8.7 million through May 15 of this year – in the form of damages from unpaid compensation, residuals, and pension and health payments. The guild notes that the primary function of its Legal Services Department is to enforce employer obligations under the WGA’s collective bargaining agreements through the filing of grievances and arbitration claims.