Friday, October 21, 2005

Sinclair sues Leiberman for Uttering against "the Man"

This is a post from Bruce Godfrey/Crablaw's Maryland Weekly, modified for this forum.

I have not read the pleadings myself, but according to an October 19, 2005, Daily Record article by Caryn Tamber, Sinclair NewsCentral LLC is suing its former Washington bureau chief Jon Leiberman, who criticized his employer publicly for its decision to direct Sinclair stations to run an anti-John Kerry documentary as a news story. Please note that I am not a subscriber to the Daily Record, but the article in question appeared accessible without subscription through search for "Sinclair", and other bloggers appear to have linked to it similarly. I respect copyrights and will adjust this post if it is not a proper link.

Until I have read the pleadings, I feel uncomfortable either criticizing or supporting the legal analysis of the piece. A newspaper reporter and a practicing attorney tend to have different fears or concerns; a non-practitioner reporter probably fears her editor and loss of professional reputation as a reporter, while a non-journalist practitioner like myself fears grievances, sanctions, malpractice, blown deadlines and loss of professional reputation as an attorney. Both work hard and get dumped upon by the public, but each has a different definition of "trouble."

The article mentioned that Sinclair filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration. That is procedurally proper, if legally permitted. Under Md. Ann. Code CJ 3-206, the Maryland Arbitration Act provides an exception to the general enforceability of arbitration clauses in employment agreements as follows:
(b) Agreement between employers and employees.- This subtitle does not
apply to an arbitration agreement between employers and employees or between their respective representatives unless it is expressly provided in the agreement that this subtitle [CJ 3-201 et. seq, the Maryland Arbitration Act, emphasis Crablaw's] shall apply.
An interesting question for me is whether the agreement included that express incorporation of the Maryland Arbitration Act by proper subtitle reference. If not, Leiberman may be able to get a jury trial, something he could not get in the Maryland unemployment hearing that did not run well for him. Whether he would necessarily want one in moderate Baltimore County, which went for Kerry but quite closely, is another matter.

The article did not identify Sinclair's lawyers. Perhaps the non-attorney oriented Baltimore Sun will have additional details tomorrow; their Oct 20th article is not much more extensive than that put forth by Maryland's "comprehensive digest of events transpiring in legal and commercial affairs." We will follow this one.

-- Bruce Godfrey


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