CAA Opposes Recusal in Writers' Case, Claims That Plaintiff David Simon Settled With Agency in 2000

CAA_Building _ Sunrise- CAA Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of CAA

The agency filed a letter opposing the WGA’s suggestion that the judge recuse himself.

The legal battle between the Writers Guild of America and the four largest talent agencies heated up Wednesday with CAA sending a letter criticizing as “frivolous” and “preposterous” the WGA’s suggestion that the judge recuse himself because his wife once worked for a precursor of a defendant talent agency and has also worked for production companies that may have paid packaging fees to talent agencies.

The letter, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, also presents a first official look at substantive legal arguments the plaintiffs will make in the suit filed April 17 by the WGA and eight individual plaintiffs. They include issues that a Hollywood Reporter analysis previously suggested would be key, notably, that the WGA permitted packaging fees for 42 years until recently terminating the previous agreement with agencies; that the guild may lack standing to sue; and that individual plaintiffs may have agreed to such fees.

Indeed, on that last point, the letter discloses that plaintiff David Simon, creator of HBO's The Wire, who has been outspoken in his opposition to packaging, signed a settlement with CAA in 2000 that released all claims related to packaging fees. In addition, says the letter, plaintiff Barbara Hall, the creator of CBS' Madam Secretary, signed a 2003 agreement acknowledging that the studio on her show at the time would be paying CAA a packaging fee.

“The WGA cannot procure recusal by frivolously charging the entertainment industry as a whole with a ‘crime’ and seeking recusal of any judge with a connection to the entertainment industry,” says the letter. “The WGA’s argument on this point is preposterous, for many reasons,” including that the statute is meant as a prohibition against bribery and also that the WGA previously authorized packaging fees.

“We say, ‘No, we never agreed. We tried to end it in 1976 — we didn't have the power.’ And so we agreed to disagree,” said the WGA's agency negotiating committee co-chair Chris Keyser in a video released to its members on Wednesday. “None of this is evidence of agreement. It is evidence of duress. And anyway, there is no statute of limitations here.”

The CAA letter, which also argues that the individual plaintiffs’ claims are individualized, not industry-wide, and that the WGA does not have standing to file the lawsuit, comes in response to a letter the WGA filed Tuesday suggesting that the judge, Marc D. Gross, may need to recuse himself. If he does not do so, the WGA has the ability to strike the judge, but this power can only be used once by each side as a group, i.e., once by plaintiffs and once by defendants.

According to the WGA letter, Gross’s spouse, who is not named, previously worked for Endeavor Talent Agency, which merged with William Morris in 2009 to form WME, one of the defendants in the suit, and subsequently worked for TNT and GK-tv. The WGA letter does not assert that she had anything to do with packaging.

Packaging fees are monies paid by the studios and production companies to an agency, in return for which the agency foregoes commissioning its clients. The suit seeks an end to such fees and disgorgement of packaging fees previously paid. The agencies have yet to file a formal response, but have publicly defended packaging fees as beneficial for writers. The WGA offered no comment on the CAA letter, while Simon did not respond to a request for comment and Hall’s representatives also did not respond.

The CAA letter is below.

For more on this subject, visit THR‘s labor page.