R&B’s New Edition Calls ‘Illegal’ Contract Void

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — Members of the 1980s R&B group New Edition say a contract with management company Benchmark Entertainment should be declared void because Benchmark isn’t a licensed talent agency in California.
     Ricky Bell, Mike Bivens, Ron Devoe, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant — the current lineup of New Edition — are appealing the state labor commissioner’s finding that their contract with Benchmark is valid despite doing talent-agency things without the California license.
     The commissioner found that Benchmark pursued New Edition with a “full-court press” in hopes of managing the group. Benchmark’s plan included 125 performance dates and a European tour over an 18-month period, the commissioner found.
     Benchmark and the group entered into an oral agreement in 2012, after which Benchmark lined up a business manager and talent agent for the group. Throughout 2013 and into 2014, the talent agent lined up shows including a planned 27-date “All Six Tour.”
     However, the group terminated the management agreement just before embarking on the tour and — according to a lawsuit Benchmark filed in New York County Supreme Court in July 2014 — refused to pay the company commissions associated with the tour.
     Benchmark says New Edition’s members owe $500,000 in commission for its work promoting the group.
     The members responded to Benchmark’s lawsuit by filing a complaint with the labor commission, claiming the company violated California’s Talent Agencies Act by acting as a talent agent without a state license.
     Commission attorney David Gurley found — and the labor commissioner agreed on July 15 — that Benchmark’s pursuit of New Edition and its promise of a European tour was an effort to procure employment without a talent agency license.
     However, Gurley also noted that New Edition didn’t pay Benchmark commission and all of the group’s engagements were negotiated by a licensed talent agent.
     “We in no way condone the unlawful activity undertaken by Benchmark, however, we do not find it to be ‘substantial’ in comparison to the many lawful management responsibilities undertaken by Benchmark,” Gurley wrote in his 19-page finding. “Consequently, Benchmark’s violations of the Talent Agencies Act are severed.”
     In its appeal, New Edition’s members say Benchmark’s “illegal promises to procure employment in this case permeated the parties’ oral agreement” and that they would never have signed with Benchmark if not for those promises — making the contract void and unenforceable, they say.
     Additionally, the group wants a judge to bar Benchmark from pursuing its New York lawsuit until a determination has been made on the legality of the contract.
     The group is represented by Howard King and Stephen Rothschild of the LA firm King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano.
     Formed in 1978, New Edition skyrocketed to fame in the mid-80s with hits including “Candy Girl,” “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man.”

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