March 27, 2014 10:01am PT by Eriq Gardner
Geraldo Rivera Beats WME's Lawsuit Over Commissions (Exclusive)
William Morris Endeavor has lost its lawsuit claiming Fox News host Geraldo Rivera owed commissions of more than $1 million. On Thursday, a New York Superior Court judge dismissed WME's complaint.
For many years, Rivera has been represented by agent Jim Griffin, who left WME after three decades for Paradigm in 2009. Rivera contended that his obligations to WME ended there, but the Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell-led firm insisted that Rivera continue to pay 10 percent of gross compensation.
The target of the lawsuit was the money that Rivera was getting from Fox News. The TV host signed a four-year agreement in 2005, and then Rivera's contract with Fox News was extended in 2009 for three additional years. WME wanted commission payments from February 2010 through December 2011.
Rivera insisted that he had no agency agreement with WME.
In contrast, WME pointed to a signed letter agreement as well as AFTRA contracts that listed several WME agents. But Rivera managed to show that by 1994, all agent names but Griffin's had been deleted.
The absence of a written agency agreement spelling out commissions has doomed WME in the lawsuit.
New York Judge Charles Ramos applies something known as the "statute of frauds," which requires that certain contracts be signed and in writing.
"Assuming that the parties executed a letter agreement and/or an AFTRA Contract on or about September 29, 1994, no one claims that they executed any form of written commission agreement after 1997, after the end of the typical three-year period of the earlier agreements and AFTRA contracts," writes Judge Ramos in his opinion. "Therefore, pursuant to the statute of frauds, WME seemingly had no enforceable claim against defendants for commissions allegedly earned after September 29, 1997."
WME attempted to argue that Rivera's continued commission payments provided proof of an unwritten agency agreement and that it was memorialized and reflected in invoices, payments, letters and communications between the parties. The judge notes that WME views the alleged agreement as "effectively operating in perpetuity."
But that doesn't do the trick because there was no formal, signed contract between the parties that spelled out when such an agreement was to commence and terminate. Further, Rivera brought a successful affirmative defense that the alleged agreement violated section 181 of general business law that requires that employment agencies provide copies of contracts executed.
"Defendants argue that WM and then WME had to provide them a 'true copy,' that is, a written copy of their contract," writes the judge. "This Court agrees, that failing this, there was no enforceable agreement between the parties."
Going even further, the judge adds, "Were this Court to enforce an oral agreement as WME urges, this Court would impose the terms of the last written contract, which … provides (as Rivera insists) that Griffin would be his exclusive contact at WME. Thus, WME's discharge of Griffin would have ended any relationship between WME and Rivera."
Rivera was repped by Kinsella Weitzman.
UPDATE: Geraldo Rivera has tweeted his reaction to the ruling:
If Hollywood agents had a conscience thay would be ashamed of the under-handed, back-stabbing, bullying way they do business. Ari? Be afraid— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) March 27, 2014
I feel like the Curt Flood of the news business— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) March 27, 2014