Today, Justice Ira Gammerman of the New York Supreme Court ruled that Viacom chief Sumner Redstone will have to sit for a deposition in Dan Rather’s ongoing $70 million lawsuit against CBS.
Mr. Rather and his lawyers have been seeking to depose Mr. Redstone, whose company oversees CBS, since the outset of the suit. For months, CBS lawyers have been working to block the deposition. But today Justice Gammerman ordered that the deposition move forward.
In September of 2004–in the aftermath of CBS’s flawed 60 Minutes II report on President George Bush’s military service in the Texas Air National Guard–Mr. Redstone announced at a conference for CEOs in Hong Kong that he was supporting Mr. Bush over John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. “I look at the election from what’s good for Viacom,” Mr. Redstone said at the time. “I vote for what’s good for Viacom. I vote, today, for Viacom.”
From the start of the lawsuit, Mr. Rather’s legal team has contended that behind the scenes Mr. Redstone was maneuvering against Mr. Rather in an effort to win over the Bush administration.
Here’s the relevant passage from Mr. Rather’s amended complaint:
At all times relevant herein, CBS’s parent company, Viacom, and its Chief Executive Officer, Sumner Redstone, considered it to be in its corporate interest to curry favor with the Bush administration by diminishing Mr. Rather’s stature and reputation. At a Viacom board meeting after the Broadcast, Mr. Redstone was reported to have become enraged that the Broadcast had hurt CBS in the eyes of the Bush Administration, and exclaimed that Mr. Rather and anyone associated with him must go.
Now, thanks to Mr. Gammerman’s ruling today, Mr. Rather’s legal team will get a shot at asking Mr. Redstone under oath about such things as his communications with the Bush White House in the months leading up to the 2004 election.
While most of the depositions in the case have already been conducted, Mr. Rather’s legal team is still looking to depose a number of powerful individuals in addition to Mr. Redstone, including Dan Bartlett, the former White House Communications Director.
As we reported back in November, the discovery process in the lawsuit has already turned up a number of interesting documents, including some behind-the-scenes communication, between Mr. Bartlett and the independent panel set up to investigate CBS’ flawed report.
So far, no date has been set for Mr. Redstone’s deposition. But the parties are due back in court on December, 22 and the deposition is likely to take place before then.
After today’s hearing Gary Meyerhoff, attorney for Dan Rather released the following statement:
It is now obvious that this is far more than just a contract dispute. It goes to the integrity of the gathering and reporting of important national news.
We are moving forward with deposition discovery on Mr. Rather’s fraud and breach of fiduciary duty claims, including examining Sumner Redstone, RichardThornburgh and others, and importantly, the Judge has expressed his desire to get this case to trial promptly.
CBS, in turn, released its own statement:
Today was a good day for CBS:
The trial court refused a number of Mr Rather’s more excessive discovery requests including document requests and depositions.
The court expressed skepticism that deposing Sumner Redstone would prove in any way relevant to the case and the court agreed with our request that any such deposition be limited to no more than half a day.
The court reserved decision on CBS’s motion to dismiss Mr. Rather’s fraud claim. This is the fourth attempt in two years by Mr. Rather’s lawyers to present a legal claim of fraud to the court. We are confident it, too, will be dismissed.