On Wednesday afternoon, in New York Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan, Justice Ira Gammerman decided to allow Dan Rather’s $70 million civil lawsuit against his former bosses to move forward into the discovery phase.
Afterwards, Mr. Rather stood in the hallway outside the courtroom, surrounded by reporters, and said he was "pleased" by the justice’s decision, which would "put us on the road" to finding out "what really happened."
Among other charges, Mr. Rather has alleged that White House operatives leaned on CBS and Viacom executives behind the scenes, during the aftermath of CBS News’ flawed story on President Bush’s military record, which Mr. Rather and his colleagues produced in September 2004.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Rather said that he was prepared "to go hard and go long" in his pursuit of answers in the case, even if that pursuit took him all the way into the back corridors of Washington.
Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, lawyers for CBS had tried to convince the justice to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that CBS had in no way breached Mr. Rather’s contract and calling the rest of Mr. Rather’s various claims "window dressing."
At one point, the lawyer for the defendants compared Mr. Rather to Chad Pennington, arguing that in television as in football, you can bench your quarterback (or your star anchor) as long as you continue to pay his contract.
But from the get-go the justice seemed inclined to let the case move forward.
Back in the hallway after the hearing, Mr. Rather, who had just flown into New York from New Hampshire, where he had been covering the presidential campaign for HDNet, patiently answered questions.
One reporter asked Mr. Rather if the comparison to Chad Pennington was a fair one. Mr. Rather answered by pointing out that he was in the TV hall of fame.
Another reporter asked Mr. Rather if it was surreal to find himself on the other side of the court aisle from his longtime employers.
"There’s nothing surreal about this," said Mr. Rather. "It’s real."
UPDATE: Dan Rather’s lawyer Martin Gold just released the following statement:
"We’re pleased that the Judge gave such a positive preliminary ruling with respect to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint. Justice Ira Gammerman indicated that when he makes his formal ruling, the motion to dismiss will be largely denied and the essence of the case will proceed. Accordingly, he denied the defendants’ motion to stay discovery."
UPDATE, UPDATE: CBS has put out the following statement:
We are very pleased that the judge is seriously considering our motion to dismiss the case, and we eagerly await his decision on that motion. In that regard, the court indicated that portions of the lawsuit may not survive our motion to dismiss. In the meantime, the court has said that discovery can begin subject to agreement on its scope by the parties, which is standard procedure in this Court. We look forward to discussing with Mr. Rather’s representatives what that scope might be.