NY judge rejects parts of Rather suit against CBS

NEW YORK Thu Apr 10, 2008 3:27pm EDT

Television news anchor Dan Rather speaks during an interview in New York, November 7, 2006. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

Television news anchor Dan Rather speaks during an interview in New York, November 7, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Keith Bedford

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state judge threw out parts of Dan Rather's $70 million lawsuit against CBS on Thursday, but preserved several key elements, including the former news anchor's breach of contract claim.

State Supreme Court Judge Ira Gammerman dismissed Rather's fraud claim, saying he was too late in filing it, and rejected Rather's charge that CBS executives damaged his future job prospects, saying Rather could not support the claim.

The judge let stand the portion of the suit in which Rather says the network breached his contract by not giving him enough on-air assignments after he was removed as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" in March 2005, following a scandal over a report on U.S. President George W. Bush's military record.

CBS later acknowledged that documents used in the report, which aired on September 8, 2004, could not be authenticated. CBS aired the report two months before the presidential election pitting Bush against Democratic challenger John Kerry.

In September 2007, Rather sued CBS, Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, Viacom Inc, Viacom Chief Executive Sumner Redstone and Andrew Heyward, former head of CBS News, claiming he had been made a scapegoat to "pacify the White House."

CBS was part of Viacom until the firms split in 2006.

Rather kept reporting for the weekly news program "60 Minutes," but was dumped by CBS in June 2006 after 44 years with the network. He had spent 24 years as anchor of its flagship news program.

Martin Gold, Rather's lawyer, said the judge's decision left in place the essence of Rather's lawsuit against CBS and Viacom, including contract and tort claims.

"Although not every legal theory of the case survives, as a result of the decision, the court has permitted discovery and a trial of all of the factual issues that form the basis of Mr. Rather's lawsuit, including his $70 million claim for compensatory and punitive damages," Gold said in a statement.

James Quinn, a lawyer for CBS, viewed the decision differently.

"We're very happy about it. Basically what's left is a garden-variety contract dispute based on whether Dan Rather got enough air time on 60 minutes," said Quinn.

Rather now produces an hour-long news program, "Dan Rather Reports," for cable channel HDNet -- available only to those with high-definition television sets.

In November, CBS asked the judge to throw out the suit, arguing that Rather's claims of unfair treatment "bear no resemblance to reality" and were not filed on time.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Michelle Nichols and Xavier Briand)

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