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Judge again refuses to block SAG talks with studios

He rules that a recent board vote ousting the union's chief negotiator and disbanding its negotiating committee is lawful.

February 06, 2009|Richard Verrier

Forestalling a spectacle of a union at war with itself, a judge rebuffed for the second time a bid by Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg to block the union's new negotiating team from reviving contract talks with major studios.

Rosenberg and three other SAG board members filed a lawsuit this week seeking to overturn a recent vote by the board that ousted the union's chief negotiator and disbanded the union's negotiating committee. They maintained that the vote, taken by means of a "written assent," violated the state's business laws and SAG's own bylaws.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied the request for a temporary restraining order, saying the board's action complied with state law. He also rejected arguments by Rosenberg's attorneys that a two-thirds vote was required to disband the union's negotiating committee, as opposed to a simple majority.

The judge's decision was not a surprise. The challenge to the board's authority was considered by many a long shot. Still, the ruling removes what would have been an embarrassing setback for SAG at a time when it is facing enormous pressure to end a leadership crisis that has roiled Hollywood's largest actors union and left it unable to reach a contract on behalf of its 120,000 members.

A restraining order could have unseated the union's new interim executive director and chief negotiator, who were appointed by the board after it fired former executive director Doug Allen, contending he mishandled negotiations.

Although Thursday's ruling did not dismiss the overall case, the judge's emphatic ruling is likely to convince the major studios that they could proceed with negotiations. Talks originally scheduled to occur this week are now expected to resume Feb. 17, said a person close to the studios. Actors have been without a contract since June 30.

"I hope Alan will see the folly in this attack and drop it, so the negotiations can resume and we can do the guild's business," said Kate Walsh, star of the television show "Private Practice" and one of several moderate SAG board members who triggered the recent management shake-up.

Thursday's ruling marked a second setback for Rosenberg, whose initial appeal for an injunction was denied after the judge cited technical errors in the complaint.

Rosenberg, who attended Thursday's hearing, declined to comment.

Nonetheless, he showed no sign of backing down. Eric George, attorney for Rosenberg and the other directors, said he would file an appeal in the next few days with the California Court of Appeal.

"I'm pleased that we can put this matter behind us and dedicate our complete focus to the needs of Screen Actors Guild members," said SAG Interim National Executive Director David White.

Besides negotiating a new film and TV contract, SAG's board will meet with sister union the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists this weekend to discuss upcoming commercial contract talks. On Sunday the board is expected to take a second vote on ousting Allen, a move intended to prevent Rosenberg from continuing to challenge the validity of the vote by written assent.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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