Ed Asner Case: SAG-AFTRA Accused of 'Extreme Web' to Steal Performers' Money

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Ed Asner arrives at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California.

Like a steam locomotive chugging through molasses, a lawsuit filed almost four months ago by Ed Asner and others against SAG-AFTRA is moving slowly towards a hearing in federal court on Oct. 7. The thrust of the complaint is that the union has operated its foreign royalties (or foreign levies) program incompetently and in a manner designed to improperly funnel money into the union's general fund. The latest development is a pair of filings by plaintiffs’ counsel, Helena Sunny Wise.

One filing insists on the relevance of various portions of the legal complaint that SAG-AFTRA attorneys are seeking to strike. These portions relate to SAG-AFTRA’s decision to incorporate in Delaware, executive director David White’s prior consulting firm, and references to the union’s own lawyers.

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While SAG-AFTRA’s motion labeled these items “immaterial and prejudicial,” the plaintiffs’ Monday night filing asserts that these portions of the complaint help show “the extreme web these parties have woven to steal money that rightfully belongs to U.S. performers, if not others as well.”

Also pending is a motion by SAG-AFTRA to dismiss large portions of the complaint, largely on the grounds that the same matters were resolved by the 2010 settlement of a separate class action filed by Leave it to Beaver’s Ken Osmond.

The plaintiffs’ second filing Monday night opposes this motion. The filing begins somewhat ominously, with a footnote on page 1 that warns “This Court has not hesitated to incarcerate Union Officials who have failed to properly perform their reporting and disclosure obligations, and/or who have wrongfully benefited from financial transgressions.”

That seems an unlikely outcome here, since the case is a civil suit by a private plaintiff, not a criminal indictment.

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In any case, the opposition filing then argues that the complaint (or portions) not be dismissed, for several asserted reasons: the legal claims are different from those in the earlier suit, residuals are at issue in the Asner case but were not in the earlier one, AFTRA’s conduct was not at issue in the earlier suit but is in the new suit, and “due process and fairness (were) lacking” in the settlement of the earlier suit. Also, says the opposition, “at least five Plaintiffs can proceed herein on their state law claims since they opted out, were found by the Court to not be a member of the class, or were not even members of SAG.”

In addition to Asner, the plaintiffs in the suit are Clancy Brown, George Coe, Tom Bower, Dennis Hayden, William Richert, Louis Reeko Meserole, Terrence Beasor, Alex McArthur, Ed O’Ross, Roger Callard, Steven Barr, Russell Gannon, Stephen Wastell, James A. Osburn, and Eric Hughes aka Jon Whiteley, who identify themselves collectively as the United Screen Actors Committee (USAC). Several are former SAG board members.

Although operating under a new moniker, several of the individuals have been plaintiffs in previous lawsuits against SAG prior to the merger with AFTRA. Hughes, who is also a WGA member, was an objector to the settlement of the state court action against that union as well as an objector to the Osmond settlement. Some of the USAC plaintiffs were associated with the SAG political group MembershipFirst, which controlled the union from 2005 through early 2009.

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