SAG action comes too late for some

Say Cassel's suspension was intentionally delayed

News that SAG presidential candidate and national board member Seymour Cassel has been suspended for two years is a case of justice delayed in the eyes of some of his colleagues.

"It was actually supposed to take place back in August," said Anne-Marie Johnson, who finished second to Ken Howard in the recent SAG election. "Because of some clever tap dancing by members of the NEC, they were successful in delaying it to protect certain individuals who were running for president."

Cassel's suspension is the result of a July 17 finding by a SAG trial board that he is guilty of conduct unbecoming a member for sexually harassing three female staff members. Cassel appealed the decision to a SAG national executive committee, which passed the issue on to the national board. On Sunday, the national board upheld the trial board's punishment.

Cassel, a Membership First partisan, insisted on running as an independent in the September officer elections despite the likelihood that he would pull votes from Johnson, the official MF candidate.

Cassel and Johnson drew 13,744 votes total, 849 more than Howard, the opposition candidate of the guild's more moderate Unite for Strength faction pulled. Even during the campaign, Johnson called out Cassel and accused members of the NEC that delayed the ruling on Cassel's appeal of political maneuvering to guarantee Howard the election.

On Tuesday, the day after the news surfaced that Cassel had been suspended, the actor said he had yet to receive official word of the disciplinary action. Reached by phone, Cassel was unable to confirm the story but said he had heard the news second-hand.

"I don't know. I wasn't there (at Sunday's national board meeting)," Cassel said. "I'll have to wait and get the report myself."

SAG officials did not return calls seeking comment.

In the wake of Cassel's removal from the national board, SAG's Board Replacement Committee will now come up with recommendations for a replacement that it will submit to the Hollywood Board. That board, which retains a small MF majority, will then vote on the recommendation.

Johnson is making exploratory calls to "interested people" and expects to keep the seat in MF hands. The change could take place as early as the next Hollywood Board meeting, Nov. 9.

Cassel has made waves with his unruly behavior, and Johnson, for one, finds Sunday's result satisfying, if far too late.

"It's a long time coming," she said. "It's unfortunate that individuals had to be put through really upsetting experiences. It should have been taken care of a long time ago. But here we are, and it was finally handled."

Jay A. Fernandez reported from Los Angeles' Backstage's Daniel Holloway reported from New York.