Ouch. LA Judge Bars DOJ From Talent Agency-WGA Hearing

Keep out sign

Federal judge denies DOJ's request to participate in hearing.

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A federal judge in Los Angeles Tuesday delivered a slap in the face to the Department of Justice, denying the DOJ’s request to participate in a hearing this week in a bitter legal battle between three of Hollywood’s top talent agencies and the Writers Guild of America.

“The United States’ request to participate in the Dec. 6, 2019 hearing on the Defendant’s motion to dismiss is denied,” said United States District Judge Andrew Birotte in a brief order, posted by Deadline Hollywood.

As reported, Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, filed what’s called a “Statement of Interest of the United States” in Los Angeles Federal District Court last Tuesday ahead of the hearing, arguing that certain facts in the case must be ascertained before the case proceeds.

The Statement of Interest said the DOJ was not opining on the merits of the case. But the concerns it raised all related to arguments laid out by the Writers Guild in its motion to dismiss the suit by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency and United Talent Agency. The agencies sued the union for an alleged illegal boycott under the Sherman Antitrust Act after more than 7,000 writers fired their agents last spring.

The DOJ also asked to participate in the hearing. The WGA opposed the request and the judge has backed the union in that.

In its motion to dismiss, the WGA calls its actions legitimate and in keeping with recognized, traditional labor union practice.

A WGA spokesman wasn’t immediately available to comment. WGA President David Goodman said last week, “It’s not surprising that Trump’s Justice Department has filed a brief designed to weaken a labor union’s effort to protect its members and eliminate conflicts of interest by talent agencies.”

A DOJ spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

The WGA and talent agencies have been feuding over terms governing their contractual arrangement, which expired in April. The union wants to curtail agency practices like packaging and affiliated production that it considers conflicts of interest and instructed members to fire agents that don’t agree. It has signed some small and mid-sized agencies to a new contract, with some concessions, but the biggest ones have not budged.

Antitrust regulation applies to unions as well as corporations but labor organizations are often exempt. The DOJ’s Statement of Interest said the court needs to carefully consider the agency argument that the WGA had forfeited antitrust immunity on several counts: by including showrunners — who act as executives, not writers — in the boycott; by involving non-franchised agents, managers and lawyers, who compete with franchised agents in representing writers; and by pursuing an aggressive “power grab” that extended far beyond the labor market for writer services.”

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A federal judge in Los Angeles Tuesday delivered a slap in the face to the Department of Justice, denying the DOJ’s request to participate in a hearing this week in a bitter legal battle between three of Hollywood’s top talent agencies and the Writers Guild of America.

“The United States’ request to participate in the Dec. 6, 2019 hearing on the Defendant’s motion to dismiss is denied,” said United States District Judge Andrew Birotte in a brief order, posted by Deadline Hollywood.

As reported, Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, filed what’s called a “Statement of Interest of the United States” in Los Angeles Federal District Court last Tuesday ahead of the hearing, arguing that certain facts in the case must be ascertained before the case proceeds.

The Statement of Interest said the DOJ was not opining on the merits of the case. But the concerns it raised all related to arguments laid out by the Writers Guild in its motion to dismiss the suit by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency and United Talent Agency. The agencies sued the union for an alleged illegal boycott under the Sherman Antitrust Act after more than 7,000 writers fired their agents last spring.

The DOJ also asked to participate in the hearing. The WGA opposed the request and the judge has backed the union in that.

In its motion to dismiss, the WGA calls its actions legitimate and in keeping with recognized, traditional labor union practice.

A WGA spokesman wasn’t immediately available to comment. WGA President David Goodman said last week, “It’s not surprising that Trump’s Justice Department has filed a brief designed to weaken a labor union’s effort to protect its members and eliminate conflicts of interest by talent agencies.”

A DOJ spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

The WGA and talent agencies have been feuding over terms governing their contractual arrangement, which expired in April. The union wants to curtail agency practices like packaging and affiliated production that it considers conflicts of interest and instructed members to fire agents that don’t agree. It has signed some small and mid-sized agencies to a new contract, with some concessions, but the biggest ones have not budged.

Antitrust regulation applies to unions as well as corporations but labor organizations are often exempt. The DOJ’s Statement of Interest said the court needs to carefully consider the agency argument that the WGA had forfeited antitrust immunity on several counts: by including showrunners — who act as executives, not writers — in the boycott; by involving non-franchised agents, managers and lawyers, who compete with franchised agents in representing writers; and by pursuing an aggressive “power grab” that extended far beyond the labor market for writer services.”

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I’ve reported from New York and Milan, Italy, for top entertainment outlets Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap, including as Variety’s NY Bureau Chief and Busi...