Rosenberg's restraining order bid rejected

Superior court judge cites errors in petition

A California Superior Court judge Tuesday rejected a request for a temporary restraining order filed by SAG national president Alan Rosenberg and several confederates because of errors in the petition.

Rosenberg is seeking to nullify an action taken by a national board majority last week that removed national executive director and chief negotiator Doug Allen from his post via written assent. Rosenberg and his co-petitioners plan to amend the complaint and refile it with the court as early as Thursday.

The complaint alleges that self-described moderates on SAG's national board "unilaterally co-opted the democratically elected leadership of SAG" and seeks to restore that leadership, including Allen. In addition, the Rosenberg faction wants to prevent Allen's replacements -- interim NED David White and chief negotiator John McGuire -- "from taking any actions on SAG's behalf."

As a practical matter, this extends indefinitely the seven-month stalemate between the actors and the movie and television producers with whom SAG is negotiating a new TV/theatrical contract since Rosenberg's legal action scotches any new negotiating sessions until the internal matter of who's actually in charge is resolved.

Rosenberg, first vp Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Kent McCord and Diane Ladd filed the complaint before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.

SAG -- in the strange position of defending itself against an action filed by its own president -- released a statement Tuesday that said, "Attorneys for Screen Actors Guild specially appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court this morning in response to notice of an ex parte application for an injunction regarding the written assent of January 26, 2009.

"After hearing from attorneys for plaintiffs Alan Rosenberg, Anne-Marie Johnson, Diane Ladd, and Kent McCord, as well as SAG counsel," it said, "the court held that the notice and application for the injunction, as well as the underlying complaint, were procedurally defective and refused to issue the injunction at this time."

On Monday night, Rosenberg and Johnson delivered a notice of intent to seek a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction. That move scuttled Tuesday's scheduled round of talks with the AMPTP, which SAG was planning to resume with a new negotiating task force in the place of the dissolved hardline-heavy negotiating committee under Allen.

How much traction Rosenberg and company's claims get is open to debate. Restraining orders typically aren't awarded to reverse an action but to prevent an action from taking place -- and Allen already has been removed.

Rosenberg's complaint raises several constitutional issues having to do with the precise method of measuring the national board's majority and a question of which competing clauses have precedence in the matter of the written assent. One argument hinges on whether the national board in fact needed only a simple majority to pass its written assent or needed a two-thirds majority. The board's party factions are split nearly down the middle, with moderate forces holding a small majority.

Beyond the nuts and bolts of Tuesday's legal sparring, an industry that has been spinning its wheels for months because of the uncertainty of the dispute is left to wonder: Even if Rosenberg's faction wins an injunction that invalidates the written assent and reinstates Allen, what then? All parties are back to the impasse of 10 days ago, only with any remaining possibility of compromise battered into angry dust.

The guild has been working under an expired contract since July. There have been a few attempts to restart negotiations, including a few days of federal mediation in November. TV production in Hollywood remains healthy, but film production has slowed, for factors that go beyond labor turmoil.

Still, if Rosenberg and his allies are successful in getting a restraining order, that could have a direct impact on film production. Credit markets are tight, and lenders might be even more reluctant to finance films the longer this impasse continues. The state of the economy -- and the perceived indifference to that by Allen and his negotiating team -- is one of the reasons moderates wanted that team removed.

Additionally, the SAG leadership struggle soon could wreak havoc on the guild's commercials contract negotiations, scheduled to begin Feb. 23. SAG and AFTRA recently agreed to negotiate its deal with the ad industry jointly, and the two unions are scheduled to hold a joint plenary meeting Saturday to approve their contract proposal. That commercials pact has been extended twice already, for more than two years. The current extension expires March 31.

Andrew Salomon of Back Stage reported from New York. Jay A. Fernandez reported from Los Angeles.
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