Judge denies move to save SAG's Allen

Talks with studios expected to resume soon

With SAG's top staffer fired and its elected president humbled, guild negotiators are expected soon to return to contract talks with Hollywood studios.

That's barring any other surprise developments in a nasty civil war at the oft-volatile guild.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied a request by SAG president Alan Rosenberg and three like-minded guild officials to bar the removal of SAG exec director Doug Allen. The decision leaves recently installed interim exec director David White in his post and a special board meeting on the books for Sunday.

The judge's refusal to grant plaintiffs a temporary restraining order also means SAG senior adviser John McGuire will replace Allen as the guild's chief negotiator, whenever SAG resumes film and TV contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. The parties had intended to hold their first bargaining session in over two months last Tuesday, but Rosenberg's legal action forced a postponement.

Chalfant initially tossed the legal action on technical grounds but permitted it to be refiled Thursday. In addition to Rosenberg, plaintiffs included SAG first national vp Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Kent McCord and Diane Ladd.

All of the plaintiffs are members of the Hollywood-based MembershipFirst guild faction. Many of Allen's most vocal critics belong to SAG's New York branch, while other helping to coordinate his ouster are part of a West Coast-based faction dubbed Unite for Strength.

Allen was booted Jan. 26 without a formal board meeting, with a majority of the board signing off on the firing under a seldom-used procedure known as written assent. Rosenberg and the other plaintiffs contended that Allen's foes neglected to follow the guild's constitutional guidelines on the procedure.

But Chalfant refused to grant the restraining order on grounds that the plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail at a full hearing. Just after the ruling, plaintiffs attorney Eric George said he planned an appeal the ruling.

Despite the threatened appeal, reps of the guild and the AMPTP were already checking their calendars on Thursday to come up with a date for resuming the stall film and TV negotiations.

SAG is also due to begin negotiations -- together with AFTRA -- on a new commercials contract starting Feb. 23. That could mean SAG and the AMPTP have a window of just two weeks to reconnect on the film and TV negotiations before labor negotiators turn their attentions to talks with advertising industry reps.

SAG members have been without a film and TV contract since June 30. The guild twice extended its last commercials pact while film and TV negotiations dragged on.

SAG's new staff leadership applauded the court's rejection of the legal action by their guild president.

"I am pleased we can put this matter behind us and dedicate our complete focus to the needs of (SAG) members," White said. "There's a lot of work ahead of us."

On Saturday, SAG and AFTRA boards will meet jointly to sign off on a negotiating stance for the commercial negotiations. SAG hasn't disclosed an agenda for the special board session scheduled for Sunday, but the newly installed leadership may try to pass a formal motion on the Allen firing to thwart any further legal action by Rosenberg and other Allen allies.