San Diego-based One America News Network has fended off an effort to kill its breach-of-contract suit against AT&T, DirecTV and others.
But OAN owner Herring Networks might be out of luck claiming a loss “exceeding $1 billion” after DirecTV dropped the far-right outlet from its channel offerings last April.
On Friday the 13th, in a 5-minute hearing before Judge John S. Meyer in downtown Superior Court, three Herring lawyers and five representing the defendants went along with a tentative ruling issued Thursday night.
That ruling dealt with anti-SLAPP motions and a demurrer aimed at getting the lawsuit dismissed. Meyer granted all but one of the defendants’ motions.
It means the Herrings — father Robert and sons Charles and Bobby, hunched at the far right of spectator seating — may get their day in trial court (not yet scheduled).
Almost a year ago — Jan. 14, 2022 — Bloomberg News posted a story titled “DirecTV to Drop One America News in Blow to Conservative Channel.”
The story was accurate — quoting an email from DirecTV — but the Herrings say the note breached a confidentiality agreement with the satellite-TV provider by disclosing when its deal expired.
In his tentative ruling, Judge Meyer said: “DIRECTV argues that Herring has not alleged resulting damages. However, having adequately alleged a breach of the confidentiality provision, Herring would at a minimum be entitled to nominal damages.”
In July, four months after filing suit, Herring agreed with AT&T to “stay all pending matters … to allow the parties to explore potential resolution of this matter.”
A settlement could be out the window, however.
A major sticking point is a Herring demand to put AT&T board chairman William Kennard under oath in a deposition and collect documents involving his alleged effort to end the DirecTV deal with OAN. Kennard’s lawyers are balking.
On April 21, Meyer will hear arguments for and against ordering Kennard to answer questions. Other issues, including so-called “motions to strike,” are set for July 7.
But on Friday, the judge named by Pete Wilson in 1995 was leery about whether a Kennard deposition is “jurisdictional” — eligible for the case.
“As a matter of practicality, I just have this feeling that if the deposition were to precede other things, it would not be a jurisdictional discovery and counsel would be back here [objecting] to every question being asked, and there would be a big fight and you’d never get anywhere,” Meyer said.
Said Herring lawyer Eric Early: “Yes, he’s a top-level executive. We imagine that there will be objections. We hope there won’t be.”
Laughter filled the court.
Kennard lawyer* William Monahan told the court: “We had some success today in resolving some disputes — I think we’re in OK shape… for at least the next couple of months.”
“If you agree on anything else, let me know,” Meyer replied, sparking more laughter.
The Herrings, their lawyers and defendant attorneys declined to comment after the morning hearing. It wasn’t clear what disputes had been settled.
But both sides have been fighting over corporate secrecy.
On Monday, AT&T asked Meyer to permanently seal certain court records now out of public view under a protective order. (AT&T last year spun off DirecTV.)
“AT&T Inc. has an overriding interest that outweighs the limited public interest in this material,” wrote attorney Ashley Johnson. “If this information was disclosed to the public, Defendants AT&T Inc. and AT&T Services, Inc.’s economic interest would be harmed because competitors would be able to access this sensitive information and gain an unfair competitive advantage.”
In its original complaint, dated March 7, 2022, the Herrings said Kennard and corporate entities, “faced with increasing political pressure, interfered with Herring’s prospective business expectancy with DIRECTV. And in doing so, AT&T, AT&T Services and DIRECTV breached the Affiliation Agreement with Herring.”
Herring also noted that Kennard — “a registered Democrat [with] deep ties to the Democratic Party” — is a board member of Staple Street Capital, majority owner of Dominion Voting Systems.
Dominion is suing Herring for $1.6 billion for promoting lies about the election-tech company rigging the 2020 presidential vote.
Kennard’s role with Staple Street thus “creates a conflict of interest for him in anything having to do with Herring,” the OAN attorney wrote.
OAN owners said they were confident that their research will “further demonstrate that Kennard was directly involved in DIRECTV’s decision to non-renew OAN and that Kennard has a personal, political and financial interest in destruction of OAN that is inconsistent with his fiduciary obligations to AT&T shareholders.”
*An earlier version of this report incorrectly called Monahan a Herring lawyer.