Defunct disc jockey preps for battle

After lying low for three weeks since he was unceremoniously dumped by CBS Radio and MSNBC, radio shock jock Don Imus is prepping for a legal battle with CBS over the remainder of his five-year, $40 million contract.

Imus has hired top First Amendment attorney Martin Garbus to represent him in a claim against CBS Radio that, Garbus said, would be filed by the end of next week in New York state court. Imus created a national uproar last month when he described the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” on-air during his nationally syndicated radio program, which also had been simulcast for a decade on MSNBC.

“This is a case that we will win before the year is out,” Garbus told Daily Variety. Garbus said Imus will sue on First Amendment and breach of contract grounds.

Imus was just a few months into a new five-year, $40 million contract with CBS Radio when the firestorm erupted over his racially derogatory remarks. Imus subsequently apologized to listeners and to the Rutgers team.

In response to the news that Imus had retained legal eagle Garbus, a CBS rep said Imus was terminated last month for “cause” and “CBS would expect to prevail in any attempt by Mr. Imus to recover money for his actions.”

Garbus was quick to point to a clause in Imus’ contract that seems to acknowledge that Imus, a veteran radio talker, was an envelope-pusher by nature. After the furor over his Rutgers remarks, numerous pundits conceded that Imus had for years made similarly disparaging remarks on air without much comment or criticism from outsiders, who accepted it as part of his on-air shtick.

“Company acknowledges that artist’s services to be rendered hereunder are of a unique, extraordinary, irreverent, intellectual, topical, controversial and personal character and that programs of the same general type and nature containing these components are desired by company and are consistent with company rules and policies,” reads the clause in the contract provided by Garbus.

Garbus also noted that CBS’ radio stations are equipped with a five-second delay function that was not invoked after Imus and his on-air sidekick and producer, Bernard McGuirk, went down the verbal road on the April 4 program that led to their dismissals.

CBS declined comment beyond its statement. But sources close to the situation said there were numerous other clauses in the contract outlining the grounds for termination in the pact, including clauses designed to protect CBS in the event Imus were to act in a way that damaged the show’s financial prospects or standing with listeners and radio affiliates. As the calls for Imus’ ouster snowballed early last month, sponsors began bailing out of the “Imus in the Morning” show, as did MSNBC.

It’s also understood that CBS distributed as recently as September written guidelines for avoiding racial and sexual stereotypes and other potentially offensive language to all of its on-air talent in a primer titled “Words Harm and Hurt.”

Moreover, the contract apparently includes provisions that allows CBS to seek recompense from Imus should he act in a manner that hurt the show. CBS is considering invoking that clause in a countersuit should Imus press for a payout of his $40 million contract.

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