Court favors managers

Blasi loses legal battle

In a victory for managers, a federal appeals court has ruled that actress Rosa Blasi cannot withhold all “Strong Medicine” commissions from her manager due to violations of California’s Talent Agencies Act.

“This ruling reverses not only 28 years of legal precedent, but it will eliminate the great percentage of all future controversies,” declared Rick Siegel, who was Blasi’s manager for four years before being fired in 2001.

The Second District Court of Appeal issued the ruling Friday, reversing a 2004 state court finding against Siegel’s Marathon Entertainment shingle. Siegel had contended that a single violation of the act did not necessarily invalidate all other work he performed as a manager.

The case revolves around the 1978 Talent Agencies Act, which deregulated managers and prevents them from procuring work. Siegel and other managers have long contended that the law enables actors to get out of management contracts without paying commissions.

Blasi fired Siegel when she became a regular on the Lifetime cable series, leading to a 2003 suit by Siegel over unpaid commissions. Blasi then went to the California Labor Commission and accused Siegel of procuring employment on five occasions, leading to the state court ruling in favor of Blasi.

But the appeals court found that the legal portions of Blasi’s management contract could be “severable” from the illegal parts and cited a 1998 California Supreme Court ruling on an attorney fee dispute.

“In this case, we similarly conclude that the summary judgment for Blasi must be reversed because of the possibility that under the doctrine of severability of contracts, Marathon might be permitted to recover the ‘Strong Medicine’ commission because not only did the complaint allege that Marathon provided lawful personal manager services neither prohibited nor regulated by the act, but Blasi produced no evidence in the trial court linking the procurement of her ‘Strong Medicine’ employment contract to any illegal activity by Marathon,” the appeals court wrote.

The panel also noted that Blasi’s attorneys had argued that if it allowed personal managers who violate the act to recover commissions from lawfully procured contracts, it would destroy the incentive for those managers to comply with the act.

“We disagree,” the appeals court said. “We believe that permitting the possible recovery of commissions on lawfully procured employment contracts but barring such recovery on illegally procured employment contacts will provide personal managers with ample financial incentive to comply with the Act.”

However, the appeals court rejected Siegel’s other contentions, including his allegation that the act is unconstitutional. Siegel also has argued that the Talent Agencies Act is applied in an inconsistent fashion by the state’s labor commission, that violations by managers are penalized excessively and that the act is too vague to be enforced.

Siegel has been on a four-year crusade against the Talent Agencies Act, alleging that it serves as a legal loophole for thesps — particularly those whose careers are on the upswing — to get out of contracts, since managers aren’t allowed to procure employment.

Siegel settled a similar suit in 2004 with Nia Vardalos over the thesp’s failure to pay the 15% commission on her earnings from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Terms of the settlement were confidential.

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