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OCT
15
11 MOS

KNBC Sports Reporter Wins Pay Dispute With Lawyer

The California Labor Commissioner invalidates a deal between Mario Solis and his former attorney.

Mario Solis, the weekend sports anchor for the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, won't have to hand over 5 percent of his income to the attorney who negotiated his deal.

According to a determination made late last month by California's Labor Commissioner and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, an engagement contract that Solis entered into with attorney James Blancarte has been declared illegal under the state's Talent Agencies Act.

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The TAA says that only licensed talent agents can procure employment for clients and has been most problematic to managers in Hollywood. But as the new ruling makes clear, attorneys also run the risk of having compensation agreements invalidated under the TAA.

Solis, who has also pursued acting, scriptwriting and voiceovers in addition to his work as a sports reporter, was approached in 2002 by KNBC.

After KNBC expressed its employment interest, Solis asked Blancarte to represent him in negotiations. A written engagement contract was signed that entitled the attorney to a 5 percent commission on money paid under a potential deal with KNBC. Blancarte is said to have preferred a commission instead of a one-time fee because of the follow-up work he would do on the contract and because he'd be working as Solis' representative and agent.

Solis' deal with KNBC was worked out and renewed a couple of times thereafter. During this time, there were also discussions with ESPN, and Solis and Blancarte disputed who arranged that opportunity.

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Nevertheless, after Blancarte sued Solis, claiming money for a 13-month period between 2008 and 2009, Solis filed a petition before the California Labor Commissioner.

William Reich, a hearing officer at the agency, writes that "the functional scope of the TAA admits of no exceptions and encompasses the procurement activities of respondent, even though he is an attorney. In this regard, it is of no moment that some of the skills respondent may have brought to the negotiations on behalf of petitioner are the result of skills for which he has been licensed as an attorney."

The ruling adds, "By negotiating the KNBC agreements on petitioner's behalf, respondent attempted to procure and procured employment for petitioner. As a consequence, respondent engaged in and carried out the occupation of a talent agency."

Miles Feldman, the attorney at Raines Feldman who represented Solis, believes the ruling will be impactful for other attorneys.

"Based on my understanding, this is the most direct of decisions dealing with attorneys and negotiation under the TAA," he says.

Here's a copy of the ruling.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner