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New Judge Assigned to Writers Guild Suit Against Big Four Agencies

WGA Agents Contract Tug of War
Gary Musgrave for Variety

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig D. Karlan has been assigned to handle the Writers Guild of America’s lawsuit against Hollywood’s four major talent agencies.

Karlan was appointed Monday. The WGA, using its only preemptory challenge, removed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marc Gross on May 3 after Gross refused to voluntarily recuse himself from the case.

The WGA’s lawsuit against WME Entertainment, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners was filed April 17. The guild is seeking to block the agencies from accepting packaging fees from studios, which the guild alleges violates the agencies’ fiduciary duty to clients.

Monday’s filing said that a case management conference is scheduled for Oct. 21. The suit was filed April 17 by the WGA and eight individual writers, including David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” “The Deuce” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets.” Other plaintiffs are Meredith Stiehm, Barbara Hall, Patti Carr, Ashley Gable, Deric Hughes, Chip Johannessen, and Deirdre Mangan.

The suit was filed five days after talks between the WGA and the agencies cratered, leading to the guild’s leadership ordering members to fire agents who had not signed on to the guild’s Code of Conduct — which bans agents from collecting packaging fees and having ownership stakes in production companies. No new talks have been scheduled.

Gross is married to Susan Gross, who most recently was a consultant at Media Strategies International. 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.

Neither Karlan nor his spouse has any obvious connection to the entertainment industry. Karlan was a prosecutor in the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office before being appointed to a judgeship in 2002.

His wife, Alisa Karlan, is a consultant with Englander, Knabe and Allen, a Los Angeles lobbying firm, specializing in land use. She previously worked at another such firm, Cerrell Associates.

In a letter to the court on April 30, WGA attorney P. Casey Pitts noted that Endeavor has since merged to form WME, one of the defendants in the suit. Pitts also cited 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.