3:35pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Fox News Looks to Save Roger Ailes From Testifying in Reality Television Lawsuit
The lawsuit over an aborted Fox Business reality series about estate sales continues to grow more and more contentious with the latest dispute between the warring parties involving whether Fox News chairman Roger Ailes has to submit to a deposition.
To quickly review, Leftfield Pictures, the producer of History Channel's Pawn Stars, sued Fox News Network (parent company of Fox Business) for $4.5 million last July with the claim that it was in the middle of producing episodes when the cable network walked away from a deal. What made the lawsuit extra notable was that Leftfield's general counsel Chris Silvestri previously spent 16 years at Fox News.
So Fox filed a counterclaim alleging fraud on Leftfield's part. Fox says it learned that one of its main gay castmembers didn't have a legal relationship with supposedly adopted children, that another character was caught up with molestation accusations and that Leftfield was faking a show about a family-owned business.
In reply, Leftfield discussed the internal dynamics at Fox News Network, talked about how executives didn't want to break it to Ailes they were canceling a show they had previously hyped and then "fabricated" an excuse to kill it. The producer also slammed Fox for outing a man's sexuality.
Now, as the parties are in the discovery phase, Leftfield is pushing to put Ailes under oath, calling him an "essential witness." The plaintiff also looks to depose Judy Laterza, his longtime assistant.
According to Leftfield's letter to the judge, "documents produced in this action confirm Mr. Ailes' personal participation in the events at issue. The documents show that he was not only a participant, but the key decision-maker at Fox News with respect to the purchase of the Show from Leftfield."
Leftfield goes on to say that it doesn't "seek Mr. Ailes' deposition because he is the CEO, we are entitled to his deposition because of his obvious personal involvement in matters that Fox News itself itself has put at issue."
Fox News has responded that emails referencing potential Ailes meetings, a memo addressing another executive's views concerning Fox Business programming, an email recounting how Ailes laughed at the suggested name of the show, another indicating that director of special programming Brian Gaffney had talked to Ailes plus some word that Ailes had asked to see a promo reel don't show his personal participation or that he was a "key decision-maker" on the aborted program.
Leftfield has also put forward various press clippings in support of the deposition. One is a Fortune interview from January where Rupert Murdoch said Ailes "is micromanaging the place just as much as ever."
Fox News says such submission belies Leftfield's protest that it is not seeking the deposition merely because he is the chief executive.
New York state judge Barry Ostrager will soon decide whether to issue a protective order that precludes a deposition. If Leftfield gets to question Ailes, the depth of his involvement on Fox News shows could be a focus.