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Writers Guild to Hold New Election

Regulators investigating the last vote will defer legal action. A defeated candidate will be on the Sept. 20 ballot.

March 25, 2004|James Bates and Michael Cieply | Times Staff Writers

Under threat of a possible lawsuit by the federal government, the union representing Hollywood screen and TV scribes said Wednesday that it would hold a new presidential election because an ineligible candidate won its last vote.

The disclosure by the Writers Guild of America, West, comes amid a chaotic period for the 9,000-member group. Two presidents have resigned under pressure in less than three months, just as the union is about to enter contract talks with Hollywood studios.

The guild said it would hold a federally supervised presidential election Sept. 20, a year ahead of schedule.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the guild, Jeffrey Gitomer, district director of the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards, said regulators would hold off on taking legal action in exchange for the new election but reserved the right to file suit until Oct. 23.

A spokeswoman for the Labor Department declined to discuss details, saying, "Theoretically, this is still an open case."

The upheaval grew from the reelection of Victoria Riskin as president in September. Riskin resigned in January after an internal guild investigation found that she had not written enough to keep her membership current.

Last week, her appointed successor, Charles Holland, resigned in the wake of a story in The Times questioning his claims that he served in an elite military intelligence unit and attended college on a football scholarship.

Former union President Daniel Petrie Jr. was named by the guild's board of directors to succeed Holland. In a statement, Petrie said, "We completely agree that holding a new election for president is the best way to validate the voting rights of all guild members."

Despite Riskin's resignation, a Labor Department complaint was pushed forward by writer Ronald Parker, an advisor to the campaign of Riskin opponent Eric Hughes. Among Parker's complaints was that a writing deal Riskin arranged with producer and writer Barry Kemp was "a sham" aimed solely at preserving her active membership so she could run for office.

Attorney Steven Jay Kaplan, who represents Hughes and Parker, said federal officials determined that the defeated candidate must be included as a nominee in the new election.

A guild spokeswoman confirmed Hughes would be permitted to run without going through normal qualifying measures.

Hughes said Wednesday that he intended to run to cure what he sees as failings and abuses within the union: "Only by being president can I actually stop this harm from happening."

It was unclear what position federal officials took on more than half a dozen specific allegations filed by Parker in connection with the election.

Officials "must have made a favorable determination as to one or more of Ron's claims," Kaplan said. "But I don't know whether they made a determination as to all of them."

The guild presidency is an unpaid position held by an active writer. Terms last two years. Day-to-day running of the union is left to its paid staff.

A copy of the Labor Department's letter to the guild is available at www.latimes.com/wga.

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