Judge Grants Agencies’ Request to Deem WGA Lawsuit a ‘Complex’ Case

New status will mean the Writers’ Guild lawsuit will have a new judge and will likely be slowed down

A judge has granted a request by William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency to designate the Writers Guild of America’s lawsuit against them a “complex case,” which will transfer it to a new judge and likely slow down the trial process.

Judge Kenneth R. Freeman of the Los Angeles Superior Court granted the request. Judge William F. Highberger will now preside over the case in the court’s complex civil litigation program, and is the fourth judge named to the case. Two previous judges were asked to recuse themselves due to past connections to talent agencies.

The WGA filed the lawsuit in April against CAA, WME, UTA, and ICM Partners, arguing that their use of packaging fees are a breach of agents’ fiduciary duty to their writer clients by “severing the relationship between writers’ compensation and what the agency receives in fees.” Lawyers for the WGA also argued that packaging fees violate the Taft-Hartley Act, which states that any representative of an employee cannot receive money from the employer.

The CAA has argued that under California law, the WGA can’t pursue the case as a collective bargaining organization on behalf of its union members.

“The WGA lacks standing to bring a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty or constructive fraud on behalf of its 15,000 member-writers based on alleged violations by agents in connection with unknown thousands of unique transactions over a multi-decade period,” the agency said in a filing last week.

In their move to have the lawsuit labeled a “complex” case, CAA and WME argued that the case will require the review of thousands of writers’ contracts.

The Association of Talent Agents released a statement Tuesday condemning the WGA for not replying to ATA’s┬álatest proposal for a new agreement between the two sides that would allow writers to return to their agents. WGA members terminated their representation en masse ten weeks ago after approving a new Code of Conduct requiring agencies to eliminate packaging fees in order to represent guild members.

ATA accused the Writers Guild of not being serious about coming to a new agreement.

“Over the past year, members of the Association of Talent Agents — agencies large and small — have done everything possible to engage the WGA leadership in dialogue and negotiation, only to be met at nearly every turn with demands for capitulation rather than negotiation,” the ATA said in a statement. “Moving forward, we will pursue a course that defends and protects our employees and maintains writers’ ability to choose the agents, agencies and business models that are best for them.”

The WGA did not respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.