1:56pm PT by Austin Siegemund-Broka
'Walking Dead' Lawsuit: AMC Seeks Sanctions For CAA Exec Improperly ID'd As Lawyer
In fired The Walking Dead creator and showrunner Frank Darabont’s lawsuit against AMC alleging the network excluded him and his agency CAA from tens of millions of dollars from the zombie series, the issues in contention so far have been what the parties have to disclose to each other.
Now the dispute is taking an unusual turn, with AMC accusing the agency in a motion filed Thursday of judicial misconduct, arguing that CAA improperly identified one of its executives as a lawyer in order to gain an advantage in the case.
CAA business affairs executive Jon Ringquist has given access to confidential documents available only to outside counsel and in-house attorneys because he was identified as a lawyer for the agency. But in an August 12 deposition, Ringquist, a 27-year CAA employee, revealed he never went to law school and is not an attorney.
AMC, seeing a weakness in the hotly contested case, rushed to file for monetary sanctions against CAA, upset at having provided what it says are highly confidential documents on the way AMC negotiates with show creators and other talent to someone not authorized to obtain these documents. (In a June 2014 decision, for instance, judge Eileen Bransten made AMC hand over licensing documents on two other AMC hits, Breaking Bad and Mad Men.)
“In future negotiations with AMC, Mr. Ringquist, a senior executive in CAA's Business Affairs department, can now take advantage of the “Highly Confidential” information that he improperly obtained," states the filing (read here).
CAA lawyers describe the situation as a simple mix-up not worthy of sanctions. "AMC's ridiculous rush to file with the court a motion properly heard by the discovery master in the case is little more than an effort to deflect attention from its own repeated failure to defend the case on its merits," CAA attorney Dale Kinsella tells THR. "Plaintiffs intend to vigorously oppose this sham motion."
But AMC argues in court papers filed Thursday that the "false representations were no mere oversight." Rather, they were either "reckless or grossly negligent" or “intentional and a fraud upon this court."
The network wants CAA to pay $10,000 for every instance of "frivolous conduct," calling the agency and its lawyers' inclusion of Ringquist in the proceedings a "shocking case of legal misconduct." It wants the agency to return all confidential documents shared with Ringquist.
Kinsella defends Ringquist's right to see the confidential materials. "As the head of business affairs at CAA, it is totally appropriate for him to receive these documents," he says.
In addition, AMC wants to take additional depositions of Ringquist and of Darabont's agent, Bruce Vinokour. Vinokour was questioned in June about how CAA packaged deals for clients, but because he apparently had conversations with Ringquist on the subject, CAA attorneys restricted his answers on grounds they would violate his attorney-client privilege with Ringquist. With more of his testimony, AMC might get more insight on CAA's dealmaking with other clients and networks, information it has failed to secure in court several times.
Aug. 21, 12:41 p.m. CAA attorneys have responded Friday, arguing AMC violated court rules. They say in a letter to the judge (read here) the network's filing violates both the judge's order appointing a discovery master to oversee such conflicts and New York court rules requiring parties to notify their opponents before new motions.
What's more, they say the AMC filing "brings a manufactured controversy to the court that Plaintiff CAA was working in good faith with Defendants to resolve." They claim they told AMC they would respond in a letter to the question of Ringquist's inclusion by Aug. 20 but were preempted by yesterday's order. "There is no emergency here, despite what Defendants fight, that would require the parties' meet and confer to come to a screeching halt, and for Defendants to file their improper Order to Show Cause without notice to CAA," they continue.
They claim AMC filed the order "for one purpose, and one purpose only: to tarnish CAA and its counsel in the press," citing stories including this one.
"It is not a coincidence that Defendants filed the Order to Show Cause only one day after Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint, which asserts additional allegations against Defendants concerning newly uncovered egregious conduct," they add.
They "vigorously maintain that Mr. Ringquist should be entitled to review all discovery in this case," continuing, "the extent to which this discovery dispute is a tempest in a teapot is exemplified by the fact that the same Protective Order currently identifies AMC's former head of business affairs, Marci Wiseman, as a person who can see Highly Confidential documents despite the fact that she no longer works for the company."
Darabont, who was ousted from The Walking Dead during the hit series' second season, sued AMC in 2013 alleging the network licensed the series to itself to avoid paying him and CAA. Such "sweetheart deals" have been the subject of lawsuits over shows including Home Improvement, Smallville and The X-Files, in which profit participants claim companies that both produce and air the series manipulate license fees to deprive creators of profits.
The case will remain in the discovery stage for at least a couple more months. A trial likely would not happen until late 2016.