Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine W. Mandel has replaced Craig D. Karlan to handle the Writers Guild of America’s lawsuit against Hollywood’s four major talent agencies.
Mandel was appointed Wednesday. She is the third judge assigned to the case, which was filed April 17 by the WGA against CAA, WME, UTA and ICM Partners over the issue of agencies accepting packaging fees from studios, which the guild alleges violates the agencies’ fiduciary duty to clients. Mandel was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2009 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The WGA, using its only preemptory challenge, removed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marc Gross on May 3 after Gross refused to voluntarily recuse himself from the case. Karlan replaced Gross on May 6 and recused himself after both sides requested that he do so on grounds that he has been a writer and engaged in discussions with a CAA employee about projects.
Karlan said he did not concur with all of the facts and conclusions asserted in the motion. He said he’s a member of the general group of writers who conceivably might be subject to the type of fees in dispute — even though he’s not a member of the unions and has no current formal business relationship with any of the parties.
“Nevertheless, the court believes that even though there may not be grounds mandating disqualification for cause, the court’s recusal would further the interests of justice,” Karlan said.
The suit was filed by the WGA and eight individual writers, including David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” “The Deuce” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” Other plaintiffs are Meredith Stiehm, Barbara Hall, Patti Carr, Ashley Gable, Deric Hughes, Chip Johannessen, and Deirdre Mangan.
The suit was filed five days after talks between the WGA and the agencies cratered, leading to the guild’s leadership ordering members to fire agents who had not signed on to the guild’s Code of Conduct — which bans agents from collecting packaging fees and having ownership stakes in production companies.
UTA co-president Jay Sures offered on Wednesday on behalf of the agencies to re-start negotiations with the WGA over a new franchise agreement to govern how agents represent writers.
Mandel’s financial disclosure reports show that she used to own $2000 to $10,000 worth of CBS stock, along with many other stocks. The holding appeared on her 2017 disclosure form, but was not on her 2018 form. She is married to former Los Angeles Assistant City Atty. Thomas Peters, who stepped down from his post in March after the Los Angeles Times questioned the City Attorney Michael Feuer’s office about outside income that Peters reported.