United Screen Actors Nationwide, which endorses Carteris, issued the threat Thursday against presidential challenger Matthew Modine and 19 of his allies running on the Membership First slate, including Ed Asner, Diane Ladd, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Martin Sheen.
Pamela Jeffrey of the New York firm of Levy Ratner wrote a cease-and-desist letter in response to a July 29 threat from attorney Robert Allen to file a lawsuit on behalf of unnamed members if Carteris was not removed from the ballot. Allen accused Carteris of allegedly using insider information to take credit for SAG-AFTRA’s new deal with Netflix and alleged that she has been using union resources to promote her candidacy via official SAG-AFTRA videos.
Jeffrey called the allegations baseless and accused the 20 members — many of which are members of the union’s national and local boards — of violating their fiduciary duty. If Modine and his allies do not disavow Allen’s letter, they may be sued for break of fiduciary duty.
“Our clients note that this tactic follows a long-term pattern of conduct in which you and people working in concert and coordination with you have filed or supported the filing of frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit,” the letter said. “As current and former fiduciaries to the Union by virtue of your service on its board(s), you owe a duty of loyalty to SAG-AFTRA and have an obligation to protect the Union and its membership. Violating these duties to further personal political ambitions and vendettas can be construed as a violation of your fiduciary duty.”
“Our clients had hoped that the continued and repeated failure of your frivolous lawsuits would cause you to focus instead on making your case through the democratic process,” she continued. “This most recent threat to use a lawsuit to interfere in the elections and SAG-AFTRA’s democracy is the final straw. Our clients demand that you immediately cease and desist from using costly litigation at the expense of SAG-AFTRA and its members as a tool to advance your own personal political agenda.”
Allen brushed off Jeffrey’s letter, saying he will not disclose the identity of his clients.
“Instead of substantively responding to the specific accusations or even denying them, Ms. Carteris had her lawyer, Pamela Jeffrey, draft a letter, not addressed to me, but instead to a group of individuals Ms. Jeffrey alleges to be my clients,” he said. “I will not be goaded into revealing the identity of my clients, who have demanded anonymity precisely to avoid the harassment and retribution Ms. Jeffrey threatens to rain down.”
He also accused Jeffrey of violating California rules of professional conduct by contacting people she knew to be represented by counsel, thus subjecting herself to discipline by the state bar.
Election ballots were mailed July 29 to dues-current members and will be tabulated on Aug. 28. SAG-AFTRA represents about 160,000 performers. Carteris faces four challengers: Modine; Jane Austin, the current secretary-treasurer; Abraham Justice; and Queen Alljahye Searles.
Allen’s letter said Carteris claimed in her campaign statement that she had “negotiated a direct, comprehensive agreement with Netflix that eliminates free bargaining in low budget SVOD, improves protections against outrageous exclusivity terms/options, and for the first time covers performance capture.” The missive asserted that the deadline to submit election statements was on June 28 but that the deal was not presented for approval to the national board until July 20.
Carteris’ supporters in the letter include SAG-AFTRA National Vice Presidents Rebecca Damon, Clyde Kusatsu, Liz Zazzi, Suzanne Burkhead, Samantha Mathis, Catherine Brown and Dan Navarro. The letter was addressed to Modine, running mate Jodi Long, David Jolliffe, Pete Antico, Ed Asner, Joe d’Angerio, Debbie Evans, Marie Fink, Frances Fisher, Pamela Guest, Richard Hadfield, Linda Harcharic, Matt Kavanaugh, Diane Ladd, Esai Morales, Ron Ostrow, Patricia Richardson, Shaan Sharma, Martin Sheen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.