WASHINGTON The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against the star of the syndicated TV show "Judge Alex," saying that an arbitrator must decide a fee dispute with an attorney who is claiming 12 percent of "Judge Alex's" earnings.
The 8-1 decision came in a lawsuit by Alex E. Ferrer, a former Florida Circuit Court judge who decides minor civil disputes as a form of TV entertainment.
Ferrer refused to pay a management fee to Arnold Preston after the two men had signed a contract that called for arbitration of any disputes.
Ferrer says Preston is not a licensed talent agent as California law requires.
Preston sought the money by starting a proceeding with the American Arbitration Association in Los Angeles. Ferrer filed a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner, seeking to invalidate the contract for the fees. Ferrer went to court when the labor commissioner said she lacked the power to block the arbitration.
At issue was the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act.
"When parties agree to arbitrate all questions arising under a contract, the FAA supersedes state laws," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to proceedings in state courts.
The California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the TV star, saying that the California Labor Commissioner must determine the issue of whether the attorney is required to have a license in order to recover the money to which he says he is entitled.
Supporting "Judge Alex" in the case were the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. They urged deference to California state law which regulates businessmen who procure employment for artists.
California law "is critical to protecting vulnerable individuals in an environment where aspirants will do almost anything to 'make it big,"' the SAG and artists federation said in court papers.
Siding with Preston were the Chamber of Commerce and other business-oriented groups, which argue that determining the validity of the contract is a matter for arbitration. The court ruling in California "undermines the core objectives" of the Federal Arbitration Act, the chamber said.
The case is Preston v. Ferrer, 06-1463.