* Rather seeks $70 million
* Judge sets Dec. 22 hearing
* Sumner Redstone to give testimony
(Adds CBS comment, Redstone age)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Sept 21 A New York judge on Monday
rejected CBS Corp's (CBS.N) bid to dismiss former TV news
anchor Dan Rather's $70 million lawsuit claiming he was fired
over a controversial election-year report on former President
George W. Bush's Vietnam War-era military service.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman set a
Dec. 22 hearing in the case and directed that testimony be
taken from witnesses including Sumner Redstone, the 86-year-old
chairman of Viacom Inc VIAb.N, which once controlled CBS.
"Let's get this case moving," Gammerman said. "I would
really like to get this case ready for trial."
Rather, 77, sued CBS in 2007 and has filed a separate fraud
case against CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves and former CBS
News President Andrew Heyward over his firing from the network,
his home for more than four decades.
CBS has acknowledged it could not authenticate documents
used in the Sept. 8, 2004, report on Bush's National Guard
service, which aired two months before Bush won a second term
in the White House.
Rather accused the network in his lawsuit of breaching his
contract in part by not giving him enough on-air assignments
following his March 2005 removal as anchor of the "CBS Evening
News," a job he held for 24 years.
RATHER SAYS PRINCIPLE AT STAKE
"It was definitely a positive day for us," said Martin
Gold, a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP who
represents Rather, after Monday's roughly 40-minute hearing.
"They saw their best interest was to abandon the story
whether it was accurate or not and to get rid of Dan Rather,"
he said. "That's what this case is about."
James Quinn, who co-chairs Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP's
litigation practice and represents CBS, said he had expected
Gammerman to keep the case alive. "If we have to go to trial,
we're ready," he said after the hearing.
CBS spokesman said the hearing constituted a "good day,"
for the company, noting that Gammerman agreed with its request
that testimony from Redstone be limited to half a day.
Rather hopes to show Redstone wanted him fired. CBS lawyers
argued that Redstone had no such recollection, and that
deposing him would as a result accomplish nothing.
A representative for Redstone had no immediate comment.
A Manhattan appeals court is considering CBS' appeal of
other rulings and its decision could moot the case.
Speaking outside the courthouse, Rather said the case puts
"an important principle" at stake: "Are we going to let big
corporations and big government decide what we hear and see on
He accused CBS of having "buried an important story to
curry favor with and protect the powerful politicians who
regulate them. That's a big part of this lawsuit."
In July, Gammerman reinstated a fraud claim against CBS
after Rather's lawyer contended the network's decisions cost
his client several million dollars. Rather sued Moonves and
Heyward the following month.
"I don't think you can cloak this case in the noble cause
of journalism," Heyward said after the hearing. "Underneath it
all, it's a contract dispute."
Viacom split off CBS at the beginning of 2006.
Rather now produces a news program, "Dan Rather Reports,"
for HDNet, a high-definition television channel chaired and
co-founded by Mark Cuban, the Internet entrepreneur and owner
of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.
The lawsuit is Rather v. CBS Corp, New York State Supreme
Court (Manhattan), No. 603121/2007.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Phil
Wahba; Editing by Andre Grenon and Steve Orlofsky)