Judge Tosses Black Promoters Suit

After six years of legal wrangling, a U.S. District Court judge has thrown out a suit filed by four African-American concert promoters who claimed they were victims of a vast conspiracy to prevent black promoters from doing business.

Judge Robert Patterson granted summary judgment January 4th to the remaining defendants in the suit: William Morris Agency, Creative Artists Agency, Renaissance Entertainment (which David Zedeck closed in 1999 before re-emerging with Evolution Talent) and indie promoters Jam Productions and Beaver Productions.

The $700 million lawsuit originally named 34 agencies and promoters when it was filed in November 1998 by Rowe Entertainment (Leonard Rowe), Sun Song Productions, (Jesse Boseman), Summitt Management (Fred Jones, Jr.) and Lee King Productions (Lee King).

Black Promoters Association President Rowe, who often spoke for the plaintiffs, was unavailable for comment at press time.

In the end, Judge Patterson ruled the plaintiffs failed to present evidence to support their claims of antitrust and civil rights violations, or evidence of conspiracy in restraint of trade. They also failed to provide evidence of injury resulting from the alleged conspiracy, the judge wrote in his 176-page summary judgment.

A major issue was the BPA promoters’ premise that agencies and promoters, rather than artists and managers, have the final say on routing and who promotes. The ruling included an admission from the plaintiffs that ultimately the artist/management team decides.

“We feel this summary judgment represents a complete vindication of our business practices,” CAA spokeswoman Wendy Smith told Pollstar. “It is clear that the court thoroughly analyzed allegations of antitrust and discrimination, and ruled them to be totally without merit. We stuck with this for six years because we knew that we did absolutely nothing wrong.”

WMA spokesman Chris Petrikin said the company was gratified by the court’s decision.

“The William Morris Agency is proud of its long record of conducting business without regard to characteristics such as a concert promoter’s ethnicity or race,” he said.

“We were willing to expend a great deal of resources and time to prove the point in a public courtroom and are pleased that the court has, after hearing the facts of the case, agreed with our position and summarily dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims.”

The suit was marked by BPA pickets of William Morris and CAA offices in Beverly Hills, Calif., a demonstration in front of Clear Channel Entertainment‘s New York City offices as well as a boycott threat against the conglom, and leafleting during the 1999 Concert Industry Consortium in Los Angeles.

Most of the original 34 defendants, including CCE, The Howard Rose Agency, APA and Variety Artists, settled out of court with the plaintiffs – all members of the BPA, though the organization itself was not a party to the suit.

Jam Productions’ Jerry Mickelson said he also felt vindicated by the judge’s ruling.

“There were three agencies and two promoters that were still in the lawsuit. We felt we did nothing wrong and I assume the other defendants felt they did nothing wrong,” Mickelson told Pollstar after the ruling was handed down.

“It’s clear to us that there was no case here. There was no merit to the allegations brought by the plaintiffs. That’s what the judge ruled and that’s exactly it.”

Mickelson said his company spent “in the mid-six figures” in legal fees to get the summary judgment, and that figure may increase as the plaintiffs have not ruled out an appeal.

It’s not clear on what basis the four BPA members might appeal, given the sometimes excruciating detail of Judge Patterson’s ruling to grant summary judgment against them.

It was learned in discovery that none of the plaintiffs had a solid track record of promoting concerts prior to filing suit against the agencies and promoters. Financial disclosures also showed histories of businesses more often than not operating at a loss.

In Rowe’s case, the judge cited a litany of legal entanglements dating to 1984 including bankruptcies, tax liens, a grand jury indictment for passing a check drawn on a non-existing account, failure to pay restitution and a conviction on wire fraud charges.

Rowe’s background in concert promotion was cited by Judge Patterson as insufficient to establish him as a credible “expert” on the subject, rendering much of his testimony inadmissable lacking further evidence to prove his points.

The plaintiffs failed to produce evidence of having submitted bids to promote black or white acts, though other African-American promoters were doing business with CAA, William Morris, Jam and Beaver at the time Rowe and others claimed racial discrimination by the same companies. Predominant among those was Al Haymon, with whom Rowe and others often did business as co-promoters.

Other African-American concert promoters who testified or gave depositions about their successful efforts included Lionel Bea, Darryl Brooks, Larry Bailey, Bill Washington and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

The former basketball star’s company, Magic Johnson Productions, won a bid to promote a Maxwell tour in 1998 that the plaintiffs cited as an example of a discrimination conspiracy against them.

After the BPA said it received a verbal commitment from WMA’s Jeff Frasco that African-American promoters would be involved in the tour, the amended complaint states that the agency instead retained white promoters and excluded African-Americans; at that point, the BPA threatened to go public with its claims of discrimination.

The complaint claimed WMA, Jam, Bill Graham Presents, Bill Silva Presents, Cellar Door, SFX, Electric Factory, Delsener/Slater, Pace, Don Law and Universal Concerts “excluded plaintiffs from bidding on the contracts for the promotions of the concerts on the 1999 (Maxwell) tour.

“These defendants, acting in concert, ‘engaged’ a company called Magic Johnson Enterprises, named after a black basketball star, … as purported co-promoter of the Maxwell tour, in lieu of engaging any of the plaintiffs. Defendants’ conduct is a maneuver designed to create the false illusion that defendants have engaged a black promoter on the Maxwell tour.

“In reality, defendants’ act evidences their intention to perpetuate the conspiracy.” However, the judge noted that not only was Rowe aware that Magic Johnson Enterprises was retained as a co-promoter before the suit was filed, he sent a letter of congratulations to Johnson at the time.

Patterson cited several other instances of circular arguments offered as evidence, or no evidence at all.

So, after six years and perhaps millions in legal fees later, Patterson threw the suit out, saying, “no rational trier of fact could find for plaintiffs on any of the myriad of claims made in this action.”