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WGA Seeks To Delay Hearing On Lawsuit Vs. Big 4 Until After Guild’s Elections; Agencies Object

David Robb

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The WGA has asked the judge in its antitrust lawsuit against the Big 4 talent agencies to delay a hearing on the agencies’ demurrers and motions to dismiss the suit until after the guild’s upcoming elections. The agencies, however are asking the court to reset the hearing date for August 27 “so that the important issues raised by the briefings may be heard promptly.”

“There is no reasonable basis for delaying the hearing on the demurrers and motions to strike beyond the last week of August 2019,” the agencies said in an ex parte application filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court. “To avoid any overlap with the WGA elections,” CAA attorney Richard Kendall said in a declaration filed with the court, the agencies “request a hearing date on or before August 27, 2019, which would mean that the hearing will not occur during the elections for WGA East or WGA West.”

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During a status conference last week, the guild asked Judge William Highberger for a delay “until after the WGA’s internal elections,” the agencies said in today’s court filing, noting that guild attorneys have said that the election period would extend from roughly September 2 until ballots are counted on September 16. Two of the named plaintiffs in the case are candidates: Meredith Stiehm is running for re-election to the WGA West’s board of directors, and David Simon is running for re-election to the WGA East’s Council.

In opposing the delay, the agencies told the judge:

“A prompt hearing on [agencies’] demurrers and motions to strike is needed because it is important — and not only to the parties directly involved here — that the matters raised in these pretrial motions be decided quickly. As part of the dispute giving rise to this action, the unions representing essentially all writers in the entertainment industry have ordered all of their members to fire talent agents employed by defendants, who are the four largest talent agencies in the world, as well as talent agents employed by other agencies that have not acceded to the demands of the WGA.

“Because of the WGA’s actions, writers are hindered in finding work without representation by agents, and agents are no longer working for their writer-clients, disrupting the entertainment industry as a whole.

“More specifically, the WGA has made highly inflammatory allegations in its initial complaint and in its First Amended Complaint that defendants and other talent agencies have engaged in ‘criminal’ misconduct, including a supposed violation of federal criminal law, and has also claimed that it is entitled to bring this action on behalf of all of its writer-members, even though the claims raised involve highly individualized issues. As shown in CAA’s and ICM’s pending demurrers and motions to strike (and as will be further shown in the demurrers and motions to strike that will be filed by the other defendants on before July 23, 2019), these positions taken by the WGA are entirely contrary to law.

“It is important that the issue of whether the WGA has brought legally-viable claims be resolved quickly, because resolution of these issues will likely substantially narrow the scope of the dispute, or at a minimum clarify the scope of the ongoing dispute between these parties.

“Indeed, plaintiffs’ counsel stated during the status conference in this matter on July 16, 2019, that Plaintiffs do not expect that any resolution of this dispute can occur until the litigation is resolved. Thus, prompt resolution of the demurrers and motions to strike will both increase the likelihood that the important issues at stake in this dispute will ultimately be resolved, and, equally importantly, that they will be resolved quickly—so that both agents and writers can get back to work.

“[The WGA] should not be permitted to allege that defendants have engaged in illegal—indeed, criminal—conduct, to tout their legal accusations to the writers whom Defendants used to represent and to the industry at large, and to then try to delay judicial scrutiny of these implausible and meritless legal theories.

“Certainly, the delay cannot be justified because of any supposed burden to Plaintiffs’ counsel. [The guild’s lawyers] have already had more than five weeks to review and prepare oppositions to defendant CAA’s demurrers and motions to strike, and have already (many weeks ago) met and conferred with each of the other defendants (twice) as to the grounds for their separate demurrers and motions. Plaintiffs’ counsel stated during the July 16, 2019, ex parte hearing that Plaintiffs needed a delay because of a motion deadline in federal antitrust cases currently pending between the WGA and CAA, WME, and UTA. But that is no reason for delay. If this application is granted, CAA, WME, and UTA hereby confirm (as they have advised WGA counsel) that they will stipulate to extend the WGA’s deadline to respond to CAA, WME, and UTA’s complaints in the federal antitrust matter to September 13, 2019, so that Plaintiffs’ counsel need not respond to the federal pleadings at the same time they are responding to the demurrers and motions before this Court. Thus, any conflict with the briefing in the antitrust cases has been eliminated.”

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