Big Day For Managers

The former manager of television actress Rosa Blasi was on the favorable end of a court ruling in California January 28th – in a case closely watched by artist managers.

The National Conference of Personal Managers backed the plaintiff in Marathon Entertainment vs. Blasi. The California Supreme Court sided with management firm Marathon Entertainment, upholding an appellate court’s decision.

The decision provides severability in a contractual dispute between artist and manager. In essence, according to NCPM, the decision means an artist cannot withhold all commissions due a manager after the relationship goes south. According to the managers organization, this was possible under California law up until this point.

By law, managers are not allowed to procure employment for their clients, then charge commission to the client. That’s the job of an agent and the California Talent Agencies Act has kept it that way. As explained by NCPM, until January 28th, if a manager did procure talent for a client, even once, an artist could one day use it as a way to avoid paying the manager’s commissions – what managers like to call their "entire livelihood."

As it stood, the TAA did not allow severability – meaning that an unenforced portion of the contract voided the whole. The jobs of managers and agents often overlap, and sometimes managers will get acts gigs that are not financially worth an agent’s time.

Using an extreme example, if a manager bypassed an agent to get the act a $60 gig, taking a whopping $8 commission, and then the act went on to mega-stardom, the act could eventually cite that $60 gig as a reason to not pay the manager – at all, for anything.

Actress Rosa Blasi fired her manager, Richard Siegel, two years after becoming a regular on the Lifetime network’s "Strong Medicine." Siegel, of Marathon Entertainment, decided to fight. After the January 28th decision, he told the Los Angeles Times "On a scale of zero to 10, we were at zero until today, but now we’re at 90."

NCPM President Clinton Billups was ecstatic with the decision.

"We took some people who were facing bankruptcy on [January 28th] and turned them into legitimate, thriving businesses again," Billups told Pollstar. "Artists have used the TAA to get out of legitimate business obligations through attorneys. It just became a standard business practice that you don’t have to pay your manager. I think we’ve really drawn a line in the sand."

The ruling says the state labor commission can still allow an act to keep a manager’s entire compensation – or allow severability. Billups interpreted that as meaning the commission has more options, with severability taking precedent but still allowing the commission to punish unscrupulous managers. Before, the TAA tied their hands.

Blasi attorney Michael Plonsker told the Times that he was "disheartened that the court has seen fit to strip the act of the deterrent mechanism – namely, automatic voiding of the illegal talent agency contract in its entirety – that has stood for 40 years."

He added that he was pleased the courts rejected another of Siegel’s contentions that the TAA did not apply to managers. If Siegel prevailed, it could have put managers head-to-head with agents, Plonsker told the paper.

"We’ve been working with Rick Siegel this week to file a motion to request a rehearing on this," Billups said. "Ultimately, we’re convinced the Talent Agencies Act is unconstitutional because it interferes with our right to engage in interstate commerce.

"Basically, if you take an agency like Associated Booking Corp. of New York City, technically they can’t do business in the state of California unless they deal with an agency that’s already licensed in California. In the touring industry, Pollstar’s audience, the TAA is pretty well ignored."

The case will be sent back to the labor commissioner and a lower court for further proceedings, the Times said.