1:05pm PT by Jonathan Handel
Writers Guild Suggests Judge in Agency Fight May Need to Recuse
The Writers Guild of America sent a letter Tuesday to the judge in its packaging fee lawsuit against four talent agencies, suggesting that the judge, Marc D. Gross, may 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.
According to the letter, Gross’ spouse, who is not named, previously worked for Endeavor Talent Agency, which merged with William Morris in 2009 to form WME, one of the defendants in the WGA suit. The spouse subsequently worked for TNT and GK-tv, says the letter.
“If those companies paid packaging fees to employee representatives, the payments would arguably constitute a violation of [federal labor law] under plaintiffs' theory,” the letter states.
“If this Court concludes that recusal is warranted, it would be helpful for the Court to make that decision on or before Thursday, May 2, 2019,” it adds, citing a provision that gives parties 15 days from notice of judicial assignment to challenge the assignment.
The reference to production companies potentially being in violation of the law appears to be the first such mention of the possibility that studios and production companies, under the WGA theory, violated the law by making such payments. With WME, CAA, UTA and ICM as defendants, the suit focuses on the assertion that talent agencies are violating the law by receiving the payments, rather than on the payors and their potential vulnerability.
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.