Ouster suit ousted

Judge: 'No evidence' of a Pisano conflict

A federal judge has thrown out a conflict-of-interest suit calling for the ouster of SAG chief exec Bob Pisano from his post as the union’s chief negotiator.

Ruling comes after SAG and AFTRA recessed their negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klaussner granted Pisano’s motion for a summary judgment Tuesday in the suit by SAG members Scott Wilson and Tom Bower. In dismissing the complaint, the judge ruled that the plaintiffs “have shown no evidence that Pisano ever acted in a manner that harmed SAG interests” and that the plaintiffs “have shown no evidence of an actual conflict of interest.”

In their complaint Bower and Wilson insisted that as a member of the board of Netflix, Pisano would need to act in the best interest of the DVD company, not actors. But Klaussner, ruling from the bench, noted that “Netflix and SAG are sufficiently unrelated to allow a person to hold an executive position with both organizations without creating an actual conflict of interest.”

In an interview with Daily Variety, Wilson said he would appeal the ruling.

“If this decision is allowed to stand, it means that management can take over unions and run them to the detriment of the membership,” he added.

Wilson and Bower have been seeking the ouster of Pisano due to his position as an advisory board member of pay TV outfit Cinema Entertainment Group and his seat on the board of directors of DVD rental outfit Netflix, asserting that those posts gave Pisano “a legally imposed fiduciary duty to act in the best interests” of those companies, hamstringing his ability to get a larger share of DVD residuals.

SAG’s senior elected leadership, outside counsel and Pisano himself have dismissed those concerns as unwarranted, and on Tuesday, SAG’s top two elected officials came out swinging in defense of Pisano for the umpteenth time.

Guild secretary and treasurer James Cromwell insisted that “SAG hired Bob not in spite of his background but because of his background. It was a conscious, strategic decision that our union would benefit from his unique strengths, particularly at the negotiating table.”

And SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert called the ruling “the best holiday gift (actors) could have received. Bob Pisano is one of the strongest assets SAG members have at the negotiating table. His broad industry experience and extraordinary judgment are weapons for us against the studios and networks. We are a stronger union today as a result of this court ruling, which affirms the judgments of two separate SAG national boards.”

In November, SAG asked to be included as a co-defendant in the suit. In October, Pisano faced down his third vote of no confidence initiated by the guild’s Hollywood board as the national board backed him with a modest 58% supporting him — a 10% drop from a similar board vote in August.

Wilson also asserted that the suit has benefited SAG’s 98,000 members because the guild acknowledged in court filings that the actors’ union is entitled to residual monies from Netflix stock that was issued to five studios by the DVD rental company.

“Our action has already assured that more money will end up in actors’ pockets,” Wilson added.

SAG and AFTRA have told their 140,000 members that boosting residuals will be a key part of the contract talks. Aim is to revise upward the two-decades-old formula for homevideo to take advantage of the explosive growth in DVDs.

“Let’s see what kind of deal Mr. Pisano comes back with if he isn’t compromised on the DVD issue,” Wilson said.

Neither the Directors Guild of America nor the Writers Guild of America made any progress on the DVD residuals issue in talks with the AMPTP this fall, opting instead for packages with $60 million increases that were mostly allocated to boosts in health care contributions.

The contract talks with producers will resume Jan. 5; SAG’s one-year film/TV extension expires June 30.

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