Ed Asner plans to continue his fight for "transparency" in SAG-AFTRA's residual payments through different avenues after a court setback Wednesday, his attorney told Backstage.
The United Screen Actors Committee, a 16-member group led by Asner, alleges the union has improperly withheld foreign royalties and stymied requests for details about the some $130 million—a figure that's varied in different court filings—held in trust by the union. The group has pushed for the establishment of an independent organization to collect and distribute foreign royalties.
On Oct. 7 a judge granted SAG-AFTRA's motion to dismiss a majority of the lawsuit. The group subsequently filed an amended complaint Oct. 23, which the union also sought to have demised. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real said that because the union was allowing Asner to examine some of its residual records, he questioned the "ripeness" of the suit.
"[I]t is apparent that SAG-AFTRA is working with Plaintiffs to allow them to examine records SAG-AFTRA believes they are entitled to examine under," Real wrote. "The dispute over such an examination is therefore not 'definite and concrete,' because it is not even clear which books and records, if any, are not being proffered for examination."
As a result, Real declined dismissed the case "due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction."
Helena S. Wise, the attorney for Asner's group, said the plaintiffs, despite being granted meetings with the union's attorneys and finance officials, were unsatisfied with the records they've been given access to.
"There still hasn't been transparency in the accounting processing," said Wise. "We have not been given what we're asking for."
Still, the union said it will maintain Asner's access to documents he's "legally entitled to have access to."
Meanwhile, Wise noted that Real didn't dismiss the case on its merits and that it could be refiled. Moreover, three members of the group could keep pursuing the case through private actions. "We'll be back," she said. "The court said come back later. They didn't tell us it's frivolous."
The union expects the case to end here.
"The judge was very clear that at this point there's no federal case to go forward with," said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA's general counsel.
"I think that this is one in a long line of unnecessary lawsuits filed against the union," he added. "None of them has resulted in anything except a waste of time, money, and resources."