NEW YORK – A judge said Wednesday that he was leaning toward allowing Dan Rather's $70 million lawsuit over his being fired by CBS to proceed.
"I concluded there was enough in the complaint (by Rather) to continue with discovery (pretrial research)," state Judicial Hearing Officer Ira Gammerman said at a hearing on CBS' motion to dismiss the case.
The judge did not issue a final ruling on CBS' motion, but he suggested the parties try to agree on the scope of pretrial discovery — just in case — and told them to return to court Jan. 23 for a conference.
Rather, whose last months at CBS were clouded by a disputed story on President Bush's Vietnam-era military service, says his employers made him a "scapegoat" to placate the White House after questions arose about the story.
The lawsuit names CBS Corp., former CBS parent Viacom Inc., CBS President Leslie Moonves, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward. It seeks $20 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
Rather, 75, said after attending the hearing in Manhattan's state Supreme Court that he was pleased by the judge's statements.
"Allowing the case to go forward with discovery will put us on the road to finding out what really happened involving big corporations and powerful interests in Washington and their intrusions into newsrooms, which is the reason I'm here," Rather said. "That is the red, beating heart of this case."
CBS issued a statement saying: "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."
Rather said he realized when he sued that he would be in for a tough fight.
"I knew going into this that I had to be determined to go hard and go long," the newsman said.
The defendants' lawyer James W. Quinn disparaged Rather's lawsuit as the act of a disgruntled former employee.
"When you blow all the smoke away, this is a case of Mr. Rather being disappointed that he was benched by CBS and that they did not put him on '60 Minutes,'" Quinn told the judge.
Quinn said CBS bosses had "a right to use Mr. Rather as they saw fit as long as they paid him. The (contract) language is crystal clear."
Rather's lawyer, Martin R. Gold, said that while CBS had the right to take Rather off the air after 24 years in the anchor chair, the network had to pay him until their contract expired and then "terminate him, give him his freedom."
Rather says in his lawsuit that the defendants' actions damaged his reputation and cost him significant financial loss.
Rather was removed from his "CBS Evening News" post in March 2005, six months after he narrated a report that said Bush disobeyed orders and shirked some of his duties during his National Guard service. The report also said a commander felt pressured to sugarcoat Bush's record.