Arbitrator: Limato free to exit ICM

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Ed Limato can officially leave ICM and take his clients with him, if they choose, a Los Angeles arbitrator ruled Monday in a closely watched case pitting the veteran Hollywood agent against one of the industry's top agencies.

"I'm a free man with no obligations to ICM," Limato said. "I'm free to go where I choose. I've never been happier in my life. I feel I've been vindicated."

Said Limato's attorney, George Hedges of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges in Los Angeles: "He's out of his contract. He's free as a bird. To me, this was like a capital case because they were going to destroy this guy."

ICM said in July that Limato — who has spent more than three decades over two stints with the agency representing such A-listers as Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Richard Gere and Steve Martin — would no longer serve as its co-president. Instead, it said Limato would remain at the company as a motion picture agent.

Almost immediately, Limato and the agency began discussing his departure and the remaining time on his contract.

Limato's reps initiated the legal proceedings. ICM, which was represented by Sheldon Eisenberg of Eisenberg Raizman Thurston & Wong in Los Angeles, claimed that Limato was under contract to remain with the company until 2010, pursuant to a 2006 contract.

But Hedges, who came into the case late as co-counsel with Miles Feldman of Browne & Woods, said Limato's contract dated back to the mid-'90s and was bound by a California labor law known as the "seven-year rule."

The law, which falls under California Labor Code Section 2855, states that anyone who renders extraordinary or unique services cannot be bound to a contract for more than seven years. Actress Olivia de Havilland championed the law in 1947 after Warner Bros. continued to suspend and extend her contract beyond seven years.

"It's the rule that broke the studio system," Hedges said. "Under the old rules, they could keep actors and others under contract for years."

ICM, Hedges said, tacked on additional years to Limato's contract. The agency claimed that each contract was separate, which reset the clock on the seven-year rule.

The contract dispute went before arbitrator Diane Wayne, a retired Los Angeles superior and municipal court judge, on Aug. 1 and 2. Wayne's decision came down late Monday.

"The arbitrator's decision to allow Ed to end his contractual obligations was based solely on a technical interpretation of Section 2855," ICM general counsel Richard Levy said. "Ed is now able to accept new employment opportunities. We wish Ed continued success in the next phase of his career."

Limato, who has continued to work out of his ICM office while the arbitration took place, said that while he has received overtures from other agencies, he has not yet decided on his plans. "Certainly, I will make my decision quickly based upon what my clients want," he said. "I can't thank everybody enough in this town for the love and support they've shown me, the hundreds of phone calls and letters I've received over the past weeks."

The issue of current and future commissions on work done by Limato clients who choose to follow him to another agency has not been decided. Hedges said that was not an issue during the arbitration.

One industry insider said there are always "gray" areas in projects that exist when an agent leaves, but how commissions are decided is based on the contract between the parties.

Limato began his career at ICM's mailroom in New York in 1966. He left for WMA in 1978 but returned to ICM a decade later.

ICM said the change in Limato's status is part of a restructuring of its motion picture department, which is part of an overhaul of its larger business operations to ensure long-term growth.

Leslie Simmons is a senior writer for The Hollywood Reporter, ESQ.
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