3:34pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Talent Agents' Fight Over 'Family Guy' Commissions Ends in Draw
Five years of courtroom fighting, and the litigation between the Kaplan Stahler Agency and its former president Robert Gumer, has amounted to an affirmation of no wrongdoing.
For those with long enough memories to recall the dispute, the talent agency sued Gumer on allegations he tortiously interfered with contracts with ex-clients including David Zuckerman (the original showrunner of Fox's Family Guy), R.J. Stewart (executive producer of Xena: Warrior Princess) and Denise Moss (supervising producer of Frasier). The plaintiff claimed that when Gumer left the agency, he caused clients to also leave and withhold commissions.
Gumer brought his own counterclaims. Under the terms of his contract with Kaplan Stahler, he got a base salary and an annual bonus based on a percentage of client revenues he booked. His legal claim centered upon whether he was entitled to compensation for post-termination revenues.
A trial was held in this case, and the judge heard testimony from the clients, most prominently Zuckerman, who was responsible for the biggest ticket item. The showrunner was earning some $3 million annually in Family Guy profit participation when the lawsuit was filed. The agency was due 10 percent.
After hearing the clients testify that they left the agency because their relationship was with Gumer and that he hadn't directed them to stop paying commissions, the trial judge rejected the tortious interference claim. However, Gumer's breach-of-contract claim fared no better thanks to the fact that the written contracts were silent on the issue of post-termination compensation, the negotiations didn't evidence mutual intent by the parties on the subject, and Gumer failed to establish that custom and usage in the talent industry supported his cause.
On Wednesday, a California appeals court reviewed the proceedings and the trial court's judgment and found no errors. Gumer beats the agency's claims. The agency beats Gumer's claims. The real winners might be the attorneys. Here's the full decision.