Ruling lets SAG return to the table

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With SAG's top staffer fired and its elected president humbled, guild negotiators are expected to return soon to contract talks with Hollywood studios.

That's barring any other surprise developments in a nasty civil war at the oft-volatile guild.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied a request by SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three like-minded guild officials to bar the removal of SAG national executive director Doug Allen. The decision leaves recently installed interim exec director David White in his post and a special board meeting on the books for Sunday.

The judge's refusal to grant plaintiffs a temporary restraining order also means SAG senior adviser John McGuire will replace Allen as the guild's chief negotiator whenever SAG resumes film and TV contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Rosenberg's legal maneuvering Monday had forced a postponement of the parties' first bargaining session in more than two months, which was supposed to have taken place Tuesday.

SAG's new staff leadership applauded the court's rejection of the legal action by their guild president.

"I am pleased we can put this matter behind us and dedicate our complete focus to the needs of (SAG) members," White said. "There's a lot of work ahead of us."

Chalfant initially tossed the legal action on technical grounds but permitted it to be refiled Thursday. In addition to Rosenberg, plaintiffs included SAG first national vp Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Kent McCord and Diane Ladd.

All the plaintiffs are members of the guild's Hollywood-based MembershipFirst faction. Many of Allen's most vocal critics belong to SAG's New York branch, while others helping to coordinate his ouster are part of a West Coast-based faction dubbed Unite for Strength.

Allen was booted Jan. 26 without a formal board meeting, with a majority of the board signing off on the firing under a seldom-used procedure known as written assent. Rosenberg and the other plaintiffs contended that Allen's foes neglected to follow the guild's constitutional guidelines on the procedure.

But Chalfant refused to grant the restraining order on grounds that the plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail at a full hearing. Just after the ruling, plaintiffs attorney Eric George said he planned to appeal the ruling.

Despite the threatened appeal, reps of the guild and the AMPTP were checking their calendars Thursday to come up with a date for resuming the stalled film and TV negotiations. SAG members have been without a film and TV contract since June 30.

One set of dates being mulled would see negotiators convene Feb. 17 for at least two days of bargaining. It's considered unlikely anything could be scheduled before then.

SAG hasn't disclosed an agenda for the special board session scheduled for Sunday, but the newly installed leadership might try to pass a formal motion on the Allen firing to thwart any further legal action by Rosenberg and other Allen allies. (partialdiff)
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