George Clooney, Natalie Portman and Justin Timberlake are among the potential witnesses listed by Ed Asner and the 15 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit against SAG-AFTRA over $130 million in unpaid funds.
Thursday’s serving of the witness list comes a week and half before an Oct. 7 hearing in federal court over the union’s motion for a dismissal of the suit, which alleges extensive misconduct by the union in how it has handled foreign royalties and residuals. SAG-AFTRA has repeatedly brushed off the suit’s allegations and insisted it has done nothing wrong.
The plaintiffs — who have alleged that SAG and AFTRA have not made significant efforts to locate high-profile actors to pay the royalties and residuals — have named more than two dozen highly recognizable thesps as possible witnesses including Clooney, Portman and Timberlake.
Other possible witnesses include Julie Andrews, Gael Garcia Bernal, Nancy Sinatra, Anderson Cooper, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, Carol Burnett, Taylor Hackford, Robert Plant, Michelle Phillips, Harry Connick Jr., Colin Firth, Frankie Avalon, Natalie Cole, Ozzy Osbourne and Tyne Daly.
Additionally, the plaintiffs said they plan to call representatives of the estates of more than two dozen high-profile people including Heath Ledger, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Falk, Farrah Fawcett, Cliff Robertson, Lucille Ball, Johnny Cash, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, River Phoenix, Andy Griffith, Judy Garland, Ray Charles and Katharine Hepburn.
The names of thespians, entertainers and estates all appear on SAG-AFTRA’s “unclaimed residuals” list or as part of its “Foreign Royalties tracker.” The $130 million in allegedly unpaid funds includes unclaimed residuals, producer deposits for residuals and foreign royalties, with only the latter deposited by foreign collecting societies.
The estates were also named due to the alleged lack of notice from SAG about the settlement of the class-action suit filed by Ken Osmond, who portrayed Eddie Haskell on “Leave It to Beaver.” Osmond sued in 2007 over SAG’s handling of “foreign levies”; the guild finalized a settlement in February, 2011, under which he received $15,000 and his lawyers received $315,000.
Osmond’s suit contended that SAG overstepped its authority to make agreements with foreign collecting societies and never disclosed them until he and Jack Klugman threatened to file suit.
The witness list in the Asner case includes notable SAG-AFTRA officials including president Ken Howard, national exec director David White, chief administrative officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and assistant national exec director of communications Pamela Greenwalt.
Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, is named as a potential witness along with Directors Guild of America national exec director Jay Roth, WGA West general counsel Anthony Segall and Robert Hadl, longtime consultant to all three guilds.
The list includes former SAG president Alan Rosenberg, former national exec director Doug Allen, former SAG-AFTRA co-president Roberta Reardon and former SAG pension and health exec director Bruce Dow.
It also includes reps for the major studios and a dozen foreign collecting societies. 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.
SAG-AFTRA has accused the plaintiffs of making “florid and disconnected allegations” and asserted that they are making 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.”
On July 27, Crabtree-Ireland reported the union’s foreign royalties program has distributed more than $17.5 million to performers since inception. He’s also asserted that performers would not have received any of the funds without the union’s efforts.
Asner, a former SAG president, filed the suit with 15 others on May 24, alleging the union had improperly withheld funds and stonewalled requests for information about $130 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.