A new $8.5 million settlement has successfully been negotiated that will hopefully bring a portion of a nine-year-old litigation to a beneficial conclusion for vocal recording artists who–by law under their recording contracts–are entitled to health, pension and other benefits from AFTRA's (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) Health and Retirement Funds.
The suit filed in 1993 by Sam Moore, Brian Hyland, the heirs of Mary Wells, Jackie Wilson, Dave Prater and other recording artists accused the trustees of the AFTRA Funds of breaching their fiduciary duties to the artists as individuals and as a class under the Federal ERISA laws. Another component of the case–which is not only not being settled at this time, but rather vigorously being prosecuted–charges the major recording industry labels with pension fraud and other acts under both the ERISA and the RICO (racketeering) statutes.
A settlement proposal floated earlier in the year was stopped when Sam Moore and a handful of the other named plaintiffs broke rank with the attorneys– who were supposed to be representing the best interests of all AFTRA recording plan participants. Moore's efforts to scuttle the settlement succeeded largely because the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC) and AFTRA jumped in with Moore and several other individual artists to file objections and appeared at the Fairness Hearing on June 20th in Atlanta before The Honorable Judge Clarence Cooper.
The new settlement brings changes and reforms to the funds, who after the other settlement failed, participated at the table in a fair and reasonable manner for most of the resolutions. Moore says he's now turning his attention to dealing with the labels, waiting with anticipation for the fairness hearing (on the proposed partial settlement set for December 4 in Atlanta) and also carefully reviewing the fee and expense applications of former counsel, which also must be approved by the court as a separate issue.
Moore said, "Under the new settlement, all the money not paid out in fees, expenses and other costs (including a $25,000 per each named plaintiff payment for the nine years they were involved in litigating the case) goes to the funds to hire the consultant, cover the costs of the new arbitrator and the arbitrations, fund new artist education programs and actually cover increased benefits from the claims process going forward if the settlement is approved. I want to be sure that everyone–including the lawyers–get reimbursed fairly for their time and service. I will not, however, sit quietly and let anyone that is due a payment take more than what is fair and reasonable for the quality of the services they provided rather than the number of hours they claim they racked up.”