CAA Can't Dodge Writer's 'Main Justice' Script Suit

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

Writer John Musero can proceed with his lawsuit alleging his former CAA agent redeveloped his pilot script for Main Justice with another writer client without his knowledge or permission, a Los Angeles judge has ruled.

Musero in March 2019 sued the agency, along with his former agents Andrew Miller and Leah Yerushalaim. He claims his agents not only failed to properly shop his pilot about the U.S. Attorney General but also later redeveloped it with Jerry Bruckheimer and writer client Sascha Penn and sold it to CBS.

CAA filed a special motion to strike the complaint under California's anti-SLAPP law, which brings an early end to frivolous litigation arising from protected conduct like free speech. The motion is directed at the original complaint, although an amended complaint was filed after CAA largely prevailed on a demurrer in August. Therefore, L.A. Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco is only considering claims made in the first version.

Orozco issued a tentative ruling ahead of a Jan. 17 hearing, and took the matter under submission following oral arguments. Later that day, she decided to deny the agency's motion.

While the judge agreed with CAA that the complaint arises from the production of Bruckheimer's Main Justice, conduct which is protected by the First Amendment, she found Musero has shown his claims have the minimal merit necessary to avoid being stricken.

Without direct evidence of copying, Musero has to raise an inference of use by showing the defendants had access to his ideas and that the works are substantially similar.

The writer argues that a CAA employee, whose job is to "resource materials" for agency clients, provided Penn reference materials for Main Justice and that one of the available resources is CAA's database of client scripts. Musero also argues that it would be reasonable for a jury to conclude that sophisticated talent agents are smart enough to cover their tracks and Miller could have found ways to get Musero's ideas to Penn while still maintaining plausible deniability. 

Musero also argues the similarities between the two scripts are "remarkable" and include: a fictional new Attorney General, pilots that shared the same ideas in the same order and scenes involving a car accident, a basketball game and an assassination attempt. 

Meanwhile, CAA argues Penn independently created Main Justice and that any number of others with whom Musero shared his script could have leaked it.

But Musero says evidence he found during discovery "eliminates any doubt" he can establish that Miller was significantly involved in the creation of Penn's Main Justice and CAA was motivated to "harvest" Musero's work because it had proven sellable while Penn's prior efforts to write about similar topics had not been — and, thanks to packaging, the agency stood to profit if the show was picked up to series. 

The writer also argues that while Penn testified that his relationship with Miller was "distant," MIller admitted they're friends and meet socially outside of work, which Musero says calls Penn's credibility into question and "demonstrates that there were a myriad of informal/social avenues through which Miller could have shared Plaintiff's Main Justice with Penn."

Orozco finds Musero didn't need to show Penn physically had his Main Justice script, only that the writer "had a reasonable possibility to view it or otherwise gain knowledge" of the work. The judge found it is undisputed that CAA and Miller had Musero's script before Penn's project was sold to CBS, and that Musero presented evidence Penn sent his work to Miller for feedback on multiple occasions and much of their communication about the project was over the phone and not in writing. 

"Such evidence is not mere 'corporate receipt' of Plaintiff's work, but evidences a sufficiently strong nexus between the intermediary to whom Plaintiff submitted his work, Miller, and the creator of the allegedly offending work, Penn," writes Orozco. "Accordingly, taking this evidence of access, along with evidence of the substantial similarities in the scripts, Plaintiff has raised an inference of use of his work by Miller and Penn."

Read her full decision below.