Two for two in Rather-CBS suit
Judge throws out pair of claims, but lets two others standNEW YORK -- A New York State Supreme Court judge threw out two claims in Dan Rather's amended lawsuit against CBS but let stand two others that could send the breach-of-contract case to trial in several months.
Judge Ira Gammerman on Monday dismissed fraud and tortuous interference with contract claims against CBS Corp. that were part of the anchor's $70 million lawsuit against his former employer. What remains are breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, essentially claims by Rather that CBS didn't live up to its promises to give him a choice slot on "60 Minutes" after he left the anchor desk and also kept him hanging long enough to damage his journalistic reputation.
The defense also alleges that there was a special relationship between Rather and CBS News that precluded him being treated like an ordinary employee.
All claims against the new Viacom, which was created in 2006 following the split between Viacom and CBS, were also thrown out.
The network fired Rather in reaction to his 2004 election-year report on President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service, Rather said in his lawsuit filed last September. He claims he was made a "scapegoat" to placate the Bush administration; the report was criticized as inaccurate.
Both sides claimed victory on Monday. Jim Quinn, CBS' outside legal counsel, said after the hearing that CBS lived up to its responsibilities under the contract and paid him fully. Quinn said that there was no set amount of airtime specified in Rather's contract. He also said that he would file for summary judgment to dismiss the rest of the case following discovery.
Martin Gold, Rather's lead attorney, said after the hearing that the "entire story" would be coming out and that there were no limitations on discovery. He said he felt confident in the ability to prove both counts.
"The breach of contract (claim) is essentially a slam dunk," he said. He said that CBS damaged Rather's reputation by keeping him on staff and giving him very little to do between March 2005 to November 2006, when he could have received the money called for in his contract and yet been free to seek other employment.
"What we're saying is that that extra 15 months (between the time he left the anchor chair and his departure from CBS) was a poison to his reputation," Gold said. He added that Rather was urged to apologize for the broadcast, even though he didn't believe he should, and not allowed to defend himself.
The next court date is Oct. 7, when many but not all of the depositions will have been concluded. There have been eight completed so far, including those with "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager and former CBS News president Andrew Heyward.
"They both support us," Quinn said.
Rather's legal team said there would be about 20 depositions in all, including CBS honchos Sumner Redstone and Leslie Moonves as well as people who were connected with vetting the 2004 broadcast. Quinn said he would fight Redstone's deposition, saying that the executive wouldn't have anything of substance to add.
Gold said afterward that he believed Redstone would be deposed. And he said that Moonves' deposition would happen soon. In court Monday, Gold said that about 3,200 documents from the independent panel hired to investigate "Memogate" had been withheld citing privilege by the panel. It is also apparently holding up the depositions of former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and former Associated Press CEO Louis Boccardi.
Boccardi and Thornburgh led the panel hired by CBS to get to the bottom of "Memogate." Its release in January 2005 led to the firing of several CBS News employees but didn't answer whether the documents used in the broadcast were in fact fake.