As several Napa area talent agencies find themselves coming out from under legal scrutiny, two others are moving toward a courtroom confrontation.
Those two are Napa-based North Bay Entertainment and Vallejo-based disc jockey and talent agent Randy Harris.
The dispute between the two involves a broken contract, the presence of a gun at a key meeting and what North Bay's Thomas Schoenberger characterizes as professional rivalry.
Harris' suit, filed in Sonoma County, seeks more than $48,000 in back commissions, interest and attorney fees based on a written agreement with North Bay that was consummated in 2002.
In court documents, Schoenberger blames Harris for the falling out and said he only entered the deal "because of mistake, fraud, duress or undue influence as a result of plaintiff's expressed and implied threats of bodily harm to defendant."
In an interview last week, Schoenberger said he is likely to file a countersuit against Harris.
Harris started working with Schoenberger's North Bay Entertainment in 2000. In court papers Harris stated he was invited to join as an agent with the firm, but Schoenberger said in a document filed with the court that he was coerced into entering the deal.
Schoenberger claims to have entered into the contract only after Harris showed him a loaded gun, "and then presented the contract for defendant's signature."
Accounts of the gun incident vary greatly. In court papers, Harris said, "We both like guns, and he said he'd like to see it. It happened when I still worked for him. We went into a different office and drew the blinds, and I put it on the table."
Harris said the Beretta .380 was not loaded, but Schoenberger says he considered it a threat and "turned white."
The contract dispute is scheduled for a jury trial in Sonoma County Superior Court on Oct. 21 before Judge Knoel Owen. Schoenberger associate Eric Symons said a mediation session has been requested for July 7. A previous settlement offer of $7,500 went nowhere.
Those dates are almost certain to change since attorneys for both Harris and Schoenberger say they have potential calendar conflicts.
Schoenberger said a deal does not seem likely. "I do not think that we can come to a peaceful resolution due to what I believe are machinations on the part of Harris and his lawyer," said Schoenberger. "It makes more sense to me to see this matter come before a jury."
His attorney, Beverly Saxon Leonard, said this may be an appropriate case to be settled through arbitration. "Mediation is always better than going to court," she said.
Harris' attorney, Robert Nellessen acknowledges that mediation may bear no fruit given the acrimony between the sides, but said they are willing to pursue it if a mutually acceptable date can be found before the trial.
Schoenberger said he wants to file a claim against Harris because he believes Harris is at the core of the recent attention Schoenberger's company has received from the Napa County District Attorney's Office and state licensing officials. "I believe Harris and his lawyer used the DA and the state labor board as battering rams. They actively sought to destroy my reputation by egging on competitors and musicians to report me to local government agencies," he said.
Harris now does business as Pacific Entertainment based in Vallejo. Harris is not a licensed talent agent and says he books or makes referrals so rarely, it would not make sense for him to apply for a license.
According to Susan Gard, a spokeswoman for the State Labor Commissioner, that department has received complaints about Schoenberger failing to pay talent and commissions. Gard said in a smaller community such as Napa, it was difficult to tell whether complaints are "just people talking" or something more serious.
Two years ago, Schoenberger, 45, was ordered to pay $18,000 to a former colleague, Bill McCubbin, in a matter involving back commissions that were unpaid. Gard said her agency flagged the North Bay Entertainment file because of the judgment.
Schoenberger noted in an interview that the $18,000 was only a fraction of the figure McCubbin initially sought.
Last December, North Bay was ordered by Napa prosecutors to pay a $3,000 fine and seek a talent agent's license or risk being put out of business. The firm acknowledged no wrongdoing, but paid the fine, applied for the license and continued to operate.
Schoenberger now says he will withdraw the application for a license based on the reprieve granted other local agencies.
North Bay Entertainment, in business locally for more than a dozen years, has dealt with more than 3,000 contractors and musical engagements. Schoenberger said the two cases against him are anomalies. "To this date, not a single client, nor musician has sued the agency," he said.