The Writers Guild of America has suggested that the judge overseeing its legal battle with the major talent agencies should recuse himself because his wife works in the industry.
Judge Marc D. Gross, who serves in the Santa Monica Superior Courthouse, has been assigned to handle the WGA’s lawsuit against WME Entertainment, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners. The guild is seeking to block the agencies from accepting packaging fees from studios, which the guild alleges violates the agencies’ duty to clients.
Gross is married to Susan Gross, who most recently was a consultant at Media Strategies International, according to her speaker bio from the 2019 NATPE convention in Miami. Prior to that, she worked for three years as an executive vice president at FremantleMedia North America. Her resume also includes stints at Endeavor Talent Agency, TNT, and Graham King’s GK-TV. Variety reported on the birth of the couple’s son in 1993, identifying Susan Gross as a VP of business affairs for TNT and her husband as a “non-pro.”
In a letter to the court on Tuesday, WGA attorney P. Casey Pitts notes that Endeavor has since merged to form WME, one of the defendants in the suit. Pitts also cites Susan Gross’ experience at GK-TV and TNT as a potential source of conflict, noting that under the WGA’s theory, TV producers that pay packaging fees to agencies could be liable for violations of state law.
Gross was appointed to the bench in 2012. He has since filed financial disclosure forms with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, on which he has disclosed his wife’s income. In 2017 and 2018, he reported that his wife earned more than $100,000 as an executive vice president at FremantleMedia. In 2012, he reported that she earned more than $100,000 working in business affairs at GK-TV.
California law requires a judge’s disqualification from a case if the judge or the judge’s spouse has a financial stake in the outcome. It is not clear that Susan Gross’ work for Endeavor Talent Agency, more than a decade ago, would be disqualifying. The judge may also disqualify himself “in the interests of justice.”
In his letter, Pitts asked the judge to decide whether or not to recuse himself by Thursday.