Tony voters may sue League over dispute

A very angry group of former Tony voters has retained permanent counsel in their dispute with the League of American Theatre Owners and Producers.

In a written statement issued Oct. 26, theater producer Bob Blume, one of the dissident group’s organizers, was quoted: “From our discussions with many disenfranchised league members, they are prepared to fight this unjust act to the last bullet. Clearly, the high-handed nature of the league’s act has touched a nerve.”

Last June, the league’s board of governors rescinded voting privileges on the Tony Awards and such benefits as first-night tickets to Broadway shows to over 125 of its members. According to theater producer Stephen Welles, another of those disenfranchised members, the league did not notified them of this change until mid-August when membership renewal packages were distributed.

Active issue

At issue is the requirement that members who vote on the Tonys and receive first-night tickets be “active” producers, having presented a first-class production on Broadway or on the road in the preceding four years.

A spokesperson for the league would not comment, but referred to a letter of Sept. 23 to the membership from league president Jed Bernstein, which stated: “…the reasoning behind this change, to encourage only the most active … members of our community to vote for the Tonys was very carefully considered one… and argued about passionately by both sides at a board of governors meeting last June. All of this done, (sic) via standard procedure and according to the by-laws.”

Welles said, “Based on our information, the league notified the board of governors only three days in advance. They barely had a quorum (at the June meeting).”

In his Sept. 23 letter, Bernstein wrote that at a Sept. 22 meeting the league’s executive committee had “decided to reaffirm the decision of the board of governors eliminating Tony voter privileges from adjunct membership status.”

According to Welles, Gary S. Redish of Winne, Banta, Rizzi, Hetherington & Basralian will head the dissident group’s legal team. Their interim counsel, Tracy W. Young, will continue as part of the team.

In the group’s written statement of Oct. 26, Welles wrote of the Winne, Banta law firm: “We wanted to find counsel who was not only an accomplished litigator but whose practice was well outside of and with no possible conflicts within the New York entertainment world.”League loses decision

On another legal front, the league has lost a round in its ongoing battle with producer Alexander H. Cohen, who initiated legal action in February claiming that he and Bentwood Television are the exclusive owners of the rights to the Tony Awards telecasts from 1967 to 1986. Cohen alleged that over the last six years the league has unjustifiably interfered with the licensing of the rights and the tapes of those telecasts that he produced. In August, Justice Herman Cahn ordered that the arbitration demand against the league go forward, an action which the league immediately appealed.

The New York Supreme Court recently denied the league’s application for a stay pending appeal, removing all impediments to the arbitration hearing.

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