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ICM Blasts Writers Guild Over Withdrawal of State Lawsuit

ICM Partners has slammed the leaders of the Writers Guild of America over its decision to withdraw from its state court lawsuit in favor of refiling the action in federal court.

The agency, which was sued in April by the guild and eight WGA members over charging allegedly illegal packaging fees, issued a statement Tuesday saying that the WGA leaders are seeking to delay a court ruling being issued prior to its Sept. 16 election — widely viewed as a referendum on the hardline approach to agents. Phyllis Nagy is running against current WGA West President David Goodman in order to re-launch negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents.

Nagy said separately Tuesday on her WGA Forward Together website that the Goodman and his allies were engaging in electioneering, “pure and simple.”

“On September 5, rulings on the motions and demurrers to dismiss those state claims—including the WGA’s standing in the cases—were to be handed down,” she said. “From reading the briefs filed in this matter, it was clear that one or more of those motions would have ended in the Guild’s claims being dismissed outright or dismissed with leave to amend. Leadership saw the writing on the wall.”

ICM is urging WGA members to replace the current leadership in the voting. It is not a party to the federal action but its attorney, Marvin Putnam, asserted that the WGA has indicated that could change.

“The leadership is terrible,” Putnam said in a conference call on Tuesday.

“It is time for the WGA leadership to stop posturing and do their job — which is to negotiate a new agreement with the agencies that best serves their membership, in the face of industry consolidation that has created formidable behemoth entertainment conglomerates to negotiate with,” ICM said in its statement.

The statement said the headlines about Monday’s move by the WGA obfuscate the truth of the WGA’s actions — which is that the case would have been tossed in the agency’s opinion. The state court motions by the agencies to dismiss the WGA suit had been set for a Sept. 5 hearing.

“The truth is, if the WGA leadership actually believed packaging was illegal, they would have welcomed the Court’s upcoming decision on the validity of their claims,” ICM said. “But they know their claims are legally and factually wrong. Knowing this, they first sought a delay of the ruling until after their elections, and when that strategy failed, they withdrew their claims entirely. And while this is an unquestionable legal victory for the agencies, the ongoing costs to everyone in the industry mounts and is disheartening.

“Rather than negotiating a new agreement between writers and their agents, the WGA leadership instead has made outrageous claims of supposed criminal behavior—behavior that they had endorsed and profited from for decades, and brought damning lawsuits such as this—only to drop them on the eve of their resolution, and otherwise sought to create discord and conflict between writers and their agents—at the very time when they should be coming together to prepare for upcoming negotiations with the studios.”

ICM spokesman Brad Turell also said that the agency has not laid off any of its agents. He also asserted that a number of WGA members have defied the April 13 guild directive to fire their agents if the agents have not signed the WGA’s Code of Conduct, which expressly bans packaging fees and affiliate ownership. Turell refused to disclose how many guild members have retained their agents at ICM.

The WGA’s new suit came in response to antitrust claims brought against the guild by CAA, WME and UTA. Those agency suits alleged that the WGA abused its power in April by telling members to fire their agents if those agents had not signed the new Code of Conduct.

“Over the years the major agencies have repeatedly broken federal antitrust law by conspiring to fix the price of packaging fees,” Goodman said on Monday. “Their current campaign to preserve the packaging fee model by strong-arming smaller agencies also violates the law. We are simply asking the court to stop these agencies from illegally enriching themselves at the expense of writers.”

The WGA contest includes races for secretary-treasurer and eight board seats, is viewed as a referendum on the WGA’s hard-nosed approach versus more accommodating tactics. Goodman announced on June 20 that the guild had called off negotiations with the Association of Talent Agents in favor of pursuing individual talks with nine top agencies as it enforces a total ban on packaging fees and affiliated production for agents representing guild members. A trio of mid-size agencies — Verve, Buchwald and Kaplan Stahler — have signed WGA agreements in recent months.

Goodman said Tuesday in response to the ICM assertions that it’s the agencies that have refused to negotiate.

“We sent all of the unsigned agencies a counter-offer after our last meeting with the ATA,” he said. “We’ve followed up with each of them multiple times since, in each case offering dialogue and meetings. Some have responded and some have not.  With those that agreed to talk we made additional changes and a deal in July negotiations.”

“For any of those who have not responded to blame the WGA for the lack of progress is nonsense.  And if they choose not to make a deal the litigation will continue. The ball is in their court.  We’re ready,” Goodman concluded.

 

 

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