'Judge Alex' appeal on way to high court


TV's "Judge Alex" is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court — as a defendant.

On Tuesday, the nation's high court agreed to hear the appeal of attorney-manager Arnold Preston, who filed suit against his former client, Alex Ferrer, over alleged unpaid commissions. Ferrer, a former Florida District Court judge, stars on the nationally syndicated court show "Judge Alex."

At issue is whether the Federal Arbitration Act and relevant case precedent pre-empts voiding an arbitration agreement under California's Talent Agencies Act, which governs disputes over whether managers have acted as unlicensed talent agents.

The case is a significant one because the Supreme Court could weigh in on one of the talent community's thorniest issues: whether the labor commission can void management contracts when the manager allegedly acts as an agent and procures employment for their client. Under the TAA, only licensed agents are allowed to procure work for clients, and any disputes are to be resolved by the labor commissioner, which often sides with talent.

Preston, represented by Beverly Hills attorney Joe Schleimer, claims that the federal arbitration rules trump the TAA. Ferrer disagrees.

Ferrer's attorney, Robert Dudnik, declined comment on the Supreme Court's decision because he had not yet spoken with his client.

The contract between Preston, a former WMA agent-turned-manager, and Ferrer provided for 12% commissions and included a standard provision calling for arbitration of any disputes, including those questioning the "validity" or "legality" of the contract.

But when Preston initiated arbitration proceedings, claiming that Ferrer owed him commissions, the TV judge responded by filing a complaint with the state's labor commissioner. Ferrer challenged the legality of the entire management agreement, claiming that Preston acted as an unlicensed agent.

The labor commissioner ruled that it had no power to stop the arbitration proceedings, so Ferrer filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court. There, the court granted his request to stop the arbitration.

The appeals court upheld the decision, and the California Supreme Court denied a petition for review.