Writers Guild Boots Judge in Agency Lawsuit

The move may have been strategic but was prompted by the fact that the judge’s spouse has apparently worked for a talent agency and two production companies.
Courtesy of WGA West

The Writers Guild of America on Friday dismissed the judge from its packaging fee case against the four largest talent agencies, exercising a right of California plaintiffs and defendants to each strike a judge from a case for cause once.

Although this right was originally designed to be used when a party believes a judge is prejudiced, it has evolved into a no-questions-asked judge-shopping technique that parties may use simply if they prefer another judge.

The move came three days after the WGA sent a letter suggesting that the judge, Marc D. Gross, might need to recuse himself because his spouse formerly worked for a precursor of a defendant talent agency and has also worked for production companies that may have paid packaging fees to talent agencies.

The WGA in its letter did not assert that the judge’s spouse had any direct involvement with packaging fees, and one of the defendants, CAA, sent a letter Wednesday blasting the WGA’s position as “frivolous” and “preposterous.” The guild’s letter also did not assert that the judge harbored any actual prejudice against the guild.

A separate section of California law governs challenging a judge for cause. Packaging fees are monies paid by the studios and production companies to an agency, in return for which the agency foregoes commissioning its clients.

The suit, filed April 17 by the WGA and eight individual writers, seeks an end to such fees and disgorgement of packaging fees previously paid. The agencies have yet to file their response, but have publicly defended packaging fees as beneficial for writers.

For more on this subject, visit THR's labor page.