'Dog' Chapman Scores Big Legal Victory Against 'Bounty Hunter' Producer (Exclusive)

Dog Chapman - Book Signing
Jemal Countess/Getty

In the world of bounty hunting, capturing fugitives is not always quick and easy. It often takes great preparation and lots of endurance.

The same thing might be said for those asserting claims arising from the California Talent Agencies Act, a peculiar law that serves to figure out whether someone has acted as an unlicensed talent agent. When someone -- often an entertainer -- brings a TAA claim against someone alleged to be operating wrongfully, the disputes are first handled by the California Labor Commissioner, and proceedings can take years to finalize.

Still, one might say that former A&E reality TV star Duane "Dog" Chapman has just pulled off a stunning victory on his TAA claim against Boris Krutonog, an executive producer on the long-running series Dog the Bounty Hunter.

The parties have been informed by an attorney for the Labor Commissioner of a ruling that says that “Krutonog’s actions to recover a producer’s fee [on the Program] ... was a veiled attempt to secure compensation for both managing and representing [the Chapmans]."

The ruling, which awards Chapman and his wife $534,450, comes five years after Chapman submitted his claim and an incredible 34 months after the case was submitted for decision. And according to Krutonog's incredulous attorney, it also comes after the judge who originally heard the case retired, leaving in doubt until now whether a ruling would ever come.

Now that it has, the ruling could impact an ongoing fight in New York court over producer fees from the A&E show and will kick off a new lawsuit to be filed later this week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Chapman's relationship with Krutonog dates back to 1994. The reality star presented for consideration to the Labor Commissioner a series of "Life Story Option Agreements" where Krutonog acquired rights held by Chapman for use in efforts to obtain a commitment for development and production of movies and TV shows.

The two sides disagreed about the purpose of these agreements.

Chapman presented them as precursors to Krutonog acting as a "manager" and procuring employment for him.

Krutonog asserted that the agreements would aid his own entertainment experience and contacts to develop and produce projects featuring Chapman's rise to a world-renowned bail bondsman and bounty hunter.

In 2003, Krutonog signed a co-executive producers agreement with production companies that would soon lead to Dog the Bounty Hunter. Under the deal, Krutonog received payments per episode. Krutonog says he performed production-type activities during the first few seasons, but one of the executives for the production companies as well as A&E's deputy general counsel testified that Krutonog's duties were more akin to Chapman's manager or agent.

Ultimately, the ruling by the Labor Commissioner favors Chapman's side. According to the decision that reviewed Krutonog's activities over the past two decades, "These activities reveal a pervasive and on-going effort by Krutonog to develop DDC's entertainment career by securing projects which also involved attempts to procure employment of DDC, and thus, the procurement of such employments constituted violations of the TAA regardless of other non-talent agency activities performed by Krutonog."

Besides the $534,450 award, the commissioner further ruled that Krutonog “be disgorged of all amounts [he] unlawfully received or will receive” from the production company "under the artists' agreement as the portions cannot be reasonably ascertained and apportioned according to the source of compensation."

Here's a copy of the ruling.

The decision is surprising but is not the last chapter in this case, and more is at stake.

Currently in New York federal court, the parties are at war over some $4 million in producer funds deposited by A&E in an interpleader action. Last month, Krutonog submitted a summary judgment motion in an attempt to gain the money, only to see the surprising TAA ruling come forth.

Marty Singer, who is representing Chapman, says it is a sign of more impending success. The New York court, he says, "should follow the same analysis as laid out by the Labor Commissioner and void Krutonog's producer agreement in its entirety."

But Howard King, the attorney representing Krutonog, rejects this analysis, saying the ruling isn't binding and that it doesn't touch the producer agreement.

As for the TAA ruling, King submitted a motion on Tuesday for a mistrial on the grounds that the original judge retired and that a fair trial could only be provided by the person who originally heard the evidence and could weigh the credibility of the witnesses.

The attorney also hopes the ruling will be nullified as soon as he appeals to the Los Angeles Superior Court, which he says he expects to do on Friday. He adds, "Basically we waited five years in order to start all over again."

Email: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner