Suit alleges mishandling of $110 million in funds
The motion was filed Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles, asserting that most of the plaintiffs — who filed as members of the United Screen Actors Committee — lack the standing to litigate the issues. The union, which asked for a hearing on Oct. 7, also asserted that the issues raised by the suit have already been resolved in the 2010 settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed by “Leave It to Beaver” actor Ken Osmond.
“What plaintiffs fail to mention in the 52 pages of their complaint is that much of the challenges they raise to SAG-AFTRA’s residuals collection and distribution programs has already been resolved in a judicially approved settlement of virtually identical allegations in a class action lawsuit,” the union said. “While it is generally a good thing when a theatrical or television production is rerun — indeed, such reruns generate the very income that is the subject of this litigation — the opposite is true in litigation.”
The motion said the complaint included “florid and disconnected allegations” that have no relevance to the causes of action.
“This is not the ‘big’ case that plaintiffs portray,” the motion said. “At most it is a speculative claim by no more than 17 of the 160,000 members of SAG-AFTRA that they may be owed a very small amount of money.”
The motion also said that only three of the 16 plaintiffs — Steve Barr, Terrence Beasor and Clancy Brown — opted out of the 2010 settlement of the Osmond case, leaving the other 13 barred by the terms of the settlement from bringing this year’s lawsuit, in which Asner is the lead plaintiff.
The suit, filed May 24, alleges that SAG-AFTRA has improperly withheld funds and stonewalled requests for information about $110 million held in trust by the union. Those funds, the suit alleges, have been collected by the union through foreign collecting societies without authorization or knowledge of union members.
At the time of the filing, SAG-AFTRA brushed off the suit, which was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real, and insisted it had done nothing wrong. It asserted that it was “very proud” of its unclaimed residuals and foreign royalties programs and claimed that actors would not have received the funds without the union’s efforts.
On July 27, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland reported the union’s foreign royalties program has distributed more than $17.5 million to performers since inception — $3.5 million higher than what SAG-AFTRA disclosed in May, when it said that it had distributed over $14 million in foreign royalties.
The foreign funds began to flow two decades ago as compensation for reuse, such as taxes on video rentals, cable retransmissions and purchases of blank videocassettes and DVDs.
The suit alleges that SAG-AFTRA has often claimed an inability to locate the actors to whom it owes money and that such funds should have escheated to the state of California. Additionally, the action alleges that the union has withheld information by filing incomplete LM-2 annual reports with the U.S. Dept of Labor and by seeking to seal court records.
SAG and AFTRA members voted to merge in March, 2012.
The suit alleges that SAG created a “producers share” of performers funds which it began disbursing to the employers of union members more than a decade before any member received any portion of the monies. It also also accuses SAG of operating a slush fund via collected foreign royalties on behalf of AFTRA and other show business craft unions.
Besides Asner, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include former board members Barr, Brown and George Coe along with Beasor, Tom Bower, Dennis Hayden, Alex McArthur, Ed O’Ross, William Richert, Louis Reeko Meserole, Roger Callard, Russell Gannon, Stephen Wastell, James Osburn and Eric Hughes. Richert (“Winter Kills”) filed a similar suit against the Writers Guild of America in 2005 and settled in 2011, and Hughes consulted on the suit.