US: Judge rejects DOJ request to appear in Writers Guild suit

A federal judge on Monday refused to allow the Department of Justice to appear at a court hearing in the legal battle between Hollywood writers and the major talent agencies.

Judge Andre Birotte denied the department’s request to participate in a brief order, without offering an explanation.

The DOJ Antitrust Division filed a brief in the case last week, arguing that the Writers Guild of America may have violated antitrust law when it directed its members to fire their agents.

Three major talent agencies — CAA, WME and UTA — are suing the guild, arguing that it engaged in a “group boycott” in violation of antitrust law. The WGA has argued that, as a union, it has broad legal immunity from antitrust suits, and the suit should be dismissed. A hearing on the union’s motion to dismiss is set for Friday.

Though the DOJ said it was not taking sides on the merits of the dispute, it did urge Birotte not to dismiss the agencies’ lawsuit. The DOJ encouraged the judge to order discovery in the case, saying factual findings would be needed to determine whether the union’s actions were exempt from antitrust scrutiny.

The guild filed an argument on Monday asking Birotte to refuse the DOJ’s request to appear. The guild’s attorneys argued that the DOJ has “no particular expertise” on the antitrust issues in play.

The guild also argued that the DOJ has not explained why it should be allowed to appear, and that its brief on the subject “does not identify any antitrust issue of any interest to the Department.”

“There are already several parties and attorneys who will be appearing in Friday’s hearing, and the views of the Department’s counsel are entitled to no particular deference in this case,” the guild’s attorneys wrote.