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Parts of Rather's lawsuit against CBS thrown out

A judge rules that a breach of contract claim can still be pursued by the former network anchor.

September 23, 2008|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A New York state Supreme Court judge Monday limited the scope of Dan Rather's $70-million lawsuit against CBS Corp., tossing out his claims that the network committed fraud and unlawfully interfered with his contract in his final months at the news division.

But Justice Ira Gammerman allowed Rather to proceed with his claims that CBS broke the terms of his contract and breached its fiduciary duty by sidelining him in the wake of a controversial story about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.

The ruling "allows us to prove everything we need to prove to a jury," said Martin Gold, Rather's lead attorney. "I think the breach-of-contract claim is essentially a slam-dunk."

That point was vigorously disputed by lawyers for CBS, who cast the judge's decision as a victory for the network, which had asked the court to dismiss three of Rather's four remaining claims. The judge threw out two of them and also dismissed the complaint against Viacom, saying the corporation could not be held liable for the actions of CBS, from which it split in 2006.

James Quinn, CBS' attorney, said the former anchor would not be able to prove that the network breached the terms of his contract.

Monday's ruling capped the second attempt by the network to get Rather's suit dismissed and came almost exactly a year after he startled the television industry by suing his former employer of 44 years.

At the heart of the case is a story that Rather reported on the now-defunct weeknight edition of "60 Minutes" in September 2004 that said political allies helped Bush avoid deployment to Vietnam and skirt the requirements of his service in the Texas Air National Guard.

Conservative bloggers and other critics immediately challenged the veracity of the story. In the end, a panel appointed by CBS concluded that the report was based in part on documents that could not be authenticated.

The newsman said that after he stepped down from "CBS Evening News" in March 2005, he was denied the support staff and airtime that his contract guaranteed.

He left CBS in June 2006, five months before his contract was set to expire.

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matea.gold@latimes.com

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