WGA West issues penalties in three cases

The WGA West has cleared Jay Leno of violating the guild’s strike rules during the 100-day work stoppage in late 2007-early 2008.

The WGA West issued a message to members Tuesday evening detailing the decisions of the trial committees assembled to probe allegations brought by members of strike rule violations during the Nov. 5, 2007-Feb. 12, 2008, walkout. The guild took action against two members, only one of whom was named, and one non-member.

The decisions in the strike rule violation trials closes the book on the 2007-08 strike for the WGA West as far as lingering guild business is concerned. They come some 18 months after the end of the strike and about a year before the guild preps for another round of what will undoubtedly be tough contract talks with the majors in advance of the May 2011 expiration of the WGA’s existing minimum basic agreement.

Leno was accused of violating guild rules against writing for struck companies when he returned as host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in early January 2008 after going dark for two months when the strike ensued. Some members brought complaints against Leno for performing nightly monologues during the six-week stretch when the show was produced sans writers.

The decision of Leno and other latenight hosts who are WGA members — including Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel — to return to the airwaves before the strike ended remains controversial among some in the scribe tribe.

(CBS’ David Letterman and Craig Ferguson returned at the same time with writers because of the interim agreement Letterman’s Worldwide Pants shingle struck with the WGA.)

Leno is believed to be the only one of the latenight hosts who faced a review by a trial committee.

Leno was questioned by a WGA West trial committee at length on two occasions in February and June — in sessions that saw WGA lawyers making the case that he violated strike rules while Leno’s counsel made the case for his innocence.

The committees consisted of five rank-and-file guild members, according to the WGA West. The final decisions on the penalties recommended by the trial committees rested with the WGA West board of directors.

Among those who were found to have engaged in strike-breaking activity, the guild said member Jon Maas was guilty of “performing writing services during the strike on a one-hour pilot teleplay” and would be assessed a fine equal to 110% of the compensation he received for penning the pilot. Maas’ WGA West membership will be suspended until the fine is paid.

Another member whose name was withheld was found guilty “of refusing to cooperate with the Strike Rules Compliance Committee in connection with an investigation of prohibited writing services alleged to have been performed on (a) film.” The guild said the member would be “reprimanded” but did not elaborate.

David Hensley, a nonmember, was permanently barred from joining the WGA after having been found guilty of “writing and submitting scripts to a struck company for a daytime serial,” the guild said.

Beyond those three cases, all other members accused of strike rule violations were found not guilty, the WGA West said. The guild did not specify how many members faced trial committee reviews, but the number is believed to be fewer than a dozen.

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