Talent powerhouse Creative Artists Agency is rolling out the artillery in the escalating battle with United Talent Agency over star clients and agents.
Late Thursday, CAA filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against its rival firm, claiming that the exodus of agents this week was "a lawless, midnight raid that UTA and its co-conspirators launched against CAA in a desperate attempt to steal clients and employees," according to a copy of the lawsuit.
CAA named UTA and two longtime CAA agents -- Gregory Cavic and Gregory McKnight -- as defendants in the lawsuit alleging breach of fiduciary duty and intentional interference with contractual relations.
The 18-page lawsuit called the exodus of agents an “illegal and unethical conspiracy” that was “months in the making.” Several agents “brazenly and abruptly” breached their contractual obligations to CAA, the suit said.
At least 10 talent agents exited the prominent Century City firm in favor of the smaller UTA, where several expect to become partners.
Most injurious to CAA, the agents took with them several big-name actors including Will Ferrell, Chris Pratt and Ed Helms. The move was a blow to CAA, which has long been known as the most prestigious agency in Hollywood.
Until now, there have been few prominent defections from the tight-ship CAA.
The loss of such major actors from its roster eventually could mean millions of dollars a year less in commissions for CAA.
In its suit, CAA said it has suffered loss of revenue, damage to its business reputation, lost profits and lost business opportunities.
United Talent Agency of Beverly Hills declined to comment.
Neither Cavic nor McKnight were under contract at CAA, but the lawsuit alleged that while the pair were still on the payroll they "worked clandestinely with each other and UTA to induce a number of CAA employees to abruptly terminate their employment with CAA."
Three of the agents who left CAA -- Martin Lesak, Jason Heyman and Dominic Nuciforo Jr. -- still were under contract.
CAA separately is preparing another action to demand that those three agents submit to arbitration, according to people familiar with the agency's strategy who asked not to be identified.
The agency is seeking damages, including punitive damages, which allow a plaintiff that prevails in court to collect more money from the defendants. CAA has asked for a jury trial.
The agency is represented by Anthony J. Oncidi and Keith A. Goodwin of law firm Proskauer Rose in Century City.
Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.