Talent agency sues its ex-president for telling clients not to pay commissions

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Talent agency sues its ex-president for telling clients not to pay commissions

Mon Apr 27, 2009 @ 01:51AM PST

By Matthew Belloni

KS-top Sure, this week should bring the long-awaited announcement of a merger deal between talent agency powers William Morris and Endeavor. But there's some legal news today from one of the town's smaller tenpercenteries.

The Kaplan Stahler Agency has sued its former president Robert Gumer to recover about $110,000 in commissions it claims he's been telling agency clients to withhold. According to the complaint, filed Friday in LA Superior Court, five current and former Kaplan Stahler clients--R.J. Stewart, David Zuckerman, Dava Savel, David Slack and Doug Lieblein--were contacted by Gumer after he resigned abruptly from the agency in December and were advised to stop paying commissions. Two of them--writer/producers Stewart ("Xena: Warrior Princess") and Zuckerman ("Family Guy," "King of the Hill")--actually owe money to the agency and allegedly are refusing to pay based on Gumer's advice.

Gumer left for rival APA in December after 13 years with Kaplan Stahler. Another name partner, Alan Braun, decamped for CAA in February. The complaint alleges that before he left, Gumer tried to negotiate for a higher salary but when the agency balked, he threatened to "go to a big agency" and "poach" clients to "destroy" his former partners.

Kaplan Stahler says it made agreements in 1995 with both Stewart and Zuckerman that the standard 10% of earnings will go to the agency on deals it negotiates, even if they leave. It appears the agency never had a written contract with either Stewart or Zuckerman, but Zuckerman apparently kept paying commissions even after he signed with another agency in 2003. Stewart left with Gumer in December and immediately stopped paying.  

The agency now claims it's owed about $15,000 in commissions from Stewart and about $95,000 (from "Family Guy") for Zuckerman. Only Gumer is a defendant, though, and the causes of action are for tortious interference with contracts. None of the former clients is named (although the agency says it plans to ask California's labor commissioner to compel Zuckerman to pay up).   

Kaplan Stahler is repped by Marvin Putnam and William Charron at LA's O'Melveny & Myers.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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