TV reporter files lawsuit against Sinclair over his dismissal

Leiberman alleged bias in Kerry documentary


A television reporter who was sued in October by Sinclair Broadcast Group after he accused it of political bias fired back yesterday with a countersuit.

Jonathan S. Leiberman, Washington bureau chief for the Hunt Valley-based company until his dismissal in October 2004, said in his lawsuit that he was wrongfully discharged and that he did not breach his contract by speaking publicly about a disagreement with his bosses, as the company had claimed. Reached yesterday by telephone, Leiberman confirmed the lawsuit's filing. He is seeking $79,166, the amount he would have earned if he had served out his two-year contract, and an unspecified amount in unpaid benefits.

Leiberman had objected to Sinclair's plans to pre-empt normal programming at its 62 television stations less than two weeks before the 2004 presidential election to air "an extremely one-sided and negative" documentary about Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, "tricked out as news," his lawsuit said. Leiberman said such a label was misleading.

When Sinclair's plan became known, the company "attempted to quiet the furor by turning to Mr. Leiberman and demanding that he confer legitimacy upon the program by participating in its presentation," the lawsuit said. Leiberman refused. He was fired after he told The Sun that the anti-Kerry documentary was "biased political propaganda."

Sinclair's suit against Leiberman said he broke company rules by speaking publicly about internal matters, and that he "divulged confidential and proprietary" information.

The company said Leiberman, now a producer at America's Most Wanted, owes Sinclair almost $17,000 in so-called liquidated damages, equal to a percentage of his salary had he worked until his contract expired.

A company representative could not be reached for comment.

In his countersuit, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court in Towson, Leiberman said none of his comments "disclosed anything remotely proprietary or confidential."

In fact, the suit said, "Sinclair's decision to terminate Mr. Leiberman was retaliation, pure and simple, for his public stand that Sinclair's plans were inconsistent with journalistic ethics."

The company's position was upheld by the Maryland Department of Labor, which found that Leiberman had violated provisions of his contract that prohibited speaking to the press without permission about internal company matters.

After being fired, Leiberman briefly worked for a Baltimore radio station, which Sinclair quickly threatened with legal action on the basis that Leiberman was violating a noncompete provision in his contract. That claim was incorporated in Sinclair's lawsuit.

In his countersuit, Leiberman said the claim was invalid because Sinclair did not own stations in Baltimore or Washington.

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