Agency says Abate under binding contract

ICM has filed a legal complaint designed to put its former book dealmaker on the shelf for the rest of the year.

Days after Endeavor formalized plans for Richard Abate to steer the agency into the author representation business, ICM is crying foul.

The agency filed a complaint in Federal Court, Southern District of New York, seeking to stop Abate from working for Endeavor on the grounds that he remains under a binding contract that prevents him from working for a competitor.

Abate and Endeavor’s plans to start a new author representation were revealed by Daily Variety earlier this week.

According to the filing, ICM claimed that it hired Abate in 1996 from a publishing house job that paid $20,500, and that in ten years he was making over $200,000 and received a bonus last December of $85,000.

While ICM tried to renegotiate and extend Abate, the agency halted that upon learning he’d negotiated a deal with Endeavor, informing ICM on Feb. 9 that he wanted to leave.

He did so, according to the complaint, before a resolution of his non-compete pact could be negotiated.

Neither the agency nor Abate would comment. Abate hasn’t yet been served, but a hearing is expected to occur as early as March 19. The current complaint is strictly about stopping Abate from working for Endeavor. There is no specific request for damages yet.

There is a long history of agents who exit to work for competitors. Most wait until their contracts are expiring.

And most times, agencies find a way to settle disputes, but occasionally, dealmakers have been forcibly “beached,” a term that refers to agents who are essentially sent to sit on the beach when it is clear they will leave upon the expiration of a deal. That rare occurrence happened both to Beth Swofford and Josh Donen when they decided to leave WMA for CAA.

Swofford, who headed the lit department, was shunned from meetings but still showed up and sat in her office each day. Donen, who ran WMA’s director department, cooled his heels outside WMA headquarters until his deal expired and he joined CAA.

The complaint marks the latest example of a long contentious relationship between ICM and Endeavor, which ironically was rumored to have gotten hot and heavy in merger talks last year. Acrimony between the percenteries goes back to the night when ICM agents like Ari Emanuel and Tom Strickler left to form Endeavor. More recently, Endeavor poached the prominent director agent Robert Newman, who left when his contract expired.

More often than not, agencies find a way to settle disputes over agents in a financial exchange, and many agency observers predicted this will go in a similar fashion. The tone of the complaint indicates that ICM brain trust was angered by what it considered a brazenness of Abate’s exit and what was characterized as a disregard for his contract.

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