Dismissal Filed in SAG-AFTRA Merger Lawsuit

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The parties to the federal lawsuit that sought to enjoin the SAG/AFTRA merger referendum – which passed almost two months ago – have filed a settlement agreement to dismiss the case. The move was expected, in light of a letter from plaintiffs’ counsel David Casselman released Wednesday, addressed to SAG-AFTRA’s outside lawyer, Bob Bush.

In an unusual addition to otherwise customary legal language, the agreement includes a statement that “while Plaintiffs still believe in the merits of their assertions, they agree that it is in the best interests of SAG/AFTRA to terminate this litigation and move forward in unity.”

The document also recites that the Plaintiffs “have reflected upon the demonstrated will of the SAG members.” That’s presumably a reference to the results of the referendum, in which a surprisingly high 82 percent of SAG members voted Yes.

Yesterday – prior to filing of the legal papers – SAG-AFTRA chief administrative officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said  “We are pleased that the plaintiffs now recognize that continuing forward . . . does nothing but waste more member dues dollars.”

Under the settlement, neither side will pay damages or attorneys fees to the other. As is usual, none of the parties admitted liability. The dismissal is “with prejudice,” a legal term that means the lawsuit cannot be refilled. The settlement encompasses “all claims brought . . . or that could have been brought in the (lawsuit).”

Filed with the settlement agreement were a stipulation and proposed court order. Until the judge signs the order, the suit is technically still live. However, there’s essentially no likelihood that he would decline to do so.

Despite the conciliatory language of the documents, it’s clear that sharp differences of opinion remain. Casselman’s letter yesterday said that “only time will tell whether the SAG and AFTRA decisions to spend such staggering sums to push members to vote for the merger will prove to be worthwhile or actually just tricked members into approving a merger which will ultimately work against their interests.”

In response, SAG-AFTRA executive vice president Ned Vaughn said yesterday, “Dropping this frivolous lawsuit is the first good decision the plaintiffs have made.” He added, “It was a bad idea to try taking this choice out of members' hands, and the overwhelming vote in favor of merger speaks for itself."

In addition to the 82 percent of SAG members who voted Yes, 86 percent of AFTRA members did so as well. The tally was announced March 30. The Hollywood Reporter subsequently reported another unexpected result, that the Yes vote was 78 percent in SAG’s Hollywood Division, previously a stronghold of merger opponents.

Those numbers, and the court’s refusal two days earlier to enjoin the vote count, set the stage for today’s dismissal.

The defendants in the current suit, in addition to the union, are SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard, co-secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino and executive vice-president Ned Vaughn, vice-presidents Mike Hodge and David Hartley-Margolin and national executive director David White.

The plaintiffs are Martin Sheen, Edward Asner, Ed Harris, Valerie Harper, Clancy Brown, James Remar, George Coe, Diane Ladd, Lainie Kazan, Nichelle Nichols, Renee Aubry, Jane Austin, Erick Avari, Steve Barr, Sara Barrett, Terrance Beasor, Michael Bell, Warren Berlinger, Joe Bologna, Ralph Brennen, Alexandra Castro, Jude Ciccolella, Cynthia Lea Clark, David Clennon, Joe D’Angerio, Patricia D’Arbanville, Dick Gautier, Dorothy Goulah, Marty Grey, Sumi Haru, Angel Harper, Basil Hoffman, David Huddleston, Anne-Marie Johnson, David Jolliffe, Kerrie Keane, Peter Kwong, Kurt Lott, Barbara Luna, Eric Lutes, Stephen Macht, Michael McConnohie, Peter Antico, Susan McNabb, Phyllis Timbes, Marguerite Moreau, Traci Murray, Nicole Mandich, Larry Newman, Barbara Niven, Kathleen Nolan, Jack Ong, Peggy Lane O’Rourke, Leslie Parrish, Scott Pierce, Robin Riker, Stephanie Rose, Alan Rosenberg, Alan Ruck, Wendy Schaal, Tascha Schaal, Nancy Sinatra, Cynthia Steele, Renee Taylor, Malachi Throne, Beverly Todd, Jessica WrightandMomo Yashima. In addition, there are a number of other clients in the litigation who are not listed as plaintiffs, including Paul Edney.

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Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel