Strike two for Alan Rosenberg.
A judge on Thursday denied the SAG prexy’s second request for a temporary restraining order to overturn the national board’s firing of exec director Doug Allen and its abolition of SAG’s contract negotiating committee — meaning SAG’s long-stalled feature-primetime negotiations may resume soon with a newly appointed guild task force in place.
Rosenberg, whose first motion for the order on Tuesday was denied on procedural grounds, said he would appeal the decision by L.A. Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.
SAG had been set to hold talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week for the first time since November, but both sides agreed late Monday to delay those sessions after Rosenberg launched his legal fight. At that point, Feb. 17-18 emerged as the earliest available dates for negotiations if SAG prevailed over Rosenberg. Spokesmen for SAG and the AMPTP said Thursday that nothing definite had been set.
Chalfant ruled against Rosenberg’s request following a one-hour hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court. Rosenberg filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against SAG and the 41 board members who used a “written assent” maneuver on Jan. 26 to oust Allen and the negotiating committee.
SAG’s “bylaws permit the board to do exactly what it did,” said Chalfant, who also said that he could not grant the order because Rosenberg’s suit is unlikely to succeed on its merits.
“You have not shown a probability of success,” he said.
Ned Vaughn, an alternate SAG board member who was in court Thursday and is one of the 41 defendants in Rosenberg’s suit, blasted the SAG boss after the hearing.
“It’s outrageous that this lawsuit has further delayed negotiations,” Vaughn said. “It’s time for Alan Rosenberg to drop this and accept that SAG members voted for change, and they want it now.”
Rosenberg’s attorney Eric George said he would appeal Chalfant’s ruling to the state court of appeal and that Rosenberg’s suit would go forward. “The suit is alive and well,” he said.
George also predicted the appeals court would rule within a few days.
SAG’s board is scheduled to meet Sunday. The slim majority of moderate board members who voted to oust Allen — who, along with Rosenberg, championed the guild’s hardline approach to the contract talks — plan to make Rosenberg’s lawsuit moot at that meeting with a formal board vote approving its earlier resolution to fire Allen and replace the negotiating committee.
It’s possible that Rosenberg and his Membership First allies would stall taking such a vote. Rosenberg led a 28-hour filibuster at the last SAG board meeting on Jan. 12-13 to block a vote on the resolution, prompting the moderates to take the “written assent” route.
David White, who replaced Allen as SAG’s exec director, issued a statement after the hearing that didn’t specify when or whether the contract talks will begin.
“I’m pleased that we can put this matter behind us and dedicate our complete focus to the needs of Screen Actors Guild members,” he said. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us.”
Most of the hearing was devoted to attorneys arguing over the legality of the use of the “written assent” to appoint the task force after eliminating the negotiating committee. Rosenberg — along with first VP Anne-Marie Johnson and board members Diane Ladd and Kent McCord — alleged that the moderate majority had violated state corporate law and guild bylaws, particularly SAG’s requirement that individual committee members may be replaced only by a two-thirds vote of the board.
But Chalfant found the SAG board needed only a simple majority to eliminate the negotiating committee, which was dominated by Rosenberg supporters.
George also contended that replacing the negotiating committee with a task force was a “back door” scheme to get around the two-thirds approval requirement.
But Chalfant spurned that argument and agreed with SAG’s outside attorney, Daniel Alberstone, that the task force has a different role than the negotiating committee. Alberstone noted that the negotiating committee was assigned to seek a strike authorization from members if negotiations failed; the task force is simply assigned to make a recommendation to the national board.
“It has a different name because it is a different animal,” Alberstone added.
Chalfant also spurned Rosenberg’s attempt to overturn the board’s move to declare that only White and senior adviser John McGuire can speak on behalf of SAG. The jurist disagreed that the new rule is a “gag order,” as characterized by George, since it doesn’t prevent Rosenberg from speaking publicly.
The issue of Allen’s firing wasn’t argued in Thursday’s session, with George admitting later that the issue of Allen’s ouster is “secondary” to the fate of the negotiating committee.
Chalfant did find, however, that the plaintiffs will suffer “irreparable harm” by not being granted the temporary restraining order, a point that George stressed after the hearing as underlining the need for an appeal.
Besides an injuntion, the suit seeks legal fees but no monetary damages.
New York SAG president Sam Freed, also named in the suit, said Chalfant’s decision “confirms” the Jan. 26 vote by the SAG board.
“We have no choice but to move forward and away from the destructive leadership of Alan Rosenberg, Anne-Marie Johnson and Membership First,” he added. “It is the responsible thing to do for our membership, our fellow union members, our communities and our industry.”