A breach of contract lawsuit filed yesterday against MSNBC host Ed Schultz aims to prove that a series of e-mails between Schultz and an aggrieved NBC employee over the development of Schultz's television career constituted a binding contract.
Schultz, the host of MSNBC's "The Ed Show," is being sued by NBC broadcast engineer Michael Queen in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Queen claims (PDF) that he came up with the idea for Schultz to move from radio to television and worked with him to secure a deal, only to have Schultz renege on promises to pay him 25 percent of the profits.
As Queen notes in his complaint, however, the two never signed a formal contract. Instead, Queen is arguing that a series of e-mails the two exchanged, along with verbal agreements, constituted the terms.
Schultz’s attorney, Los Angeles-based solo practitioner Jeffrey Landa, said in a phone interview today that the e-mails have nothing to do with Schultz’s MSNBC show, and that he plans to file cross-claims against Queen for what Landa claims is ongoing harassment. Landa said Queen initially misrepresented his identity to Schultz, and that Queen only worked with Schultz on the idea for a local Sunday morning talk show, not the MSNBC program.
“They’ve been threatening lawsuits for almost three years now,” Landa said. “We’re going to aggressively defend this case. We’re not going to settle.”
James Holm, a producer for Schultz’s radio show, referred a request for comment to Landa.
Queen is being represented by Charlottesville, Va.-based attorney Mark Lane and Washington attorney Frazer Walton Jr., both solo practitioners. Lane, in a phone interview this afternoon, said the e-mails show that Schultz had promised to pay Queen at the very least as his agent, and at the most as a partner in putting the show together.
“It is true that Mr. Schultz…never signed a contract,” Lane said. “That was the problem. He kept on agreeing, over and over, to the terms…email after email. But he wouldn’t sign anything.”
According to Queen’s complaint, the two first met in 2007, when Queen presented Schultz with his idea for a television show. Queen says he worked with Schultz on the concept and pitched the idea to various network executives, but ultimately was turned down. He also notes that he served partly as Schultz’s agent, in one case helping Schultz find a home in Washington.
From 2007 to 2009, Queen claims he exchanged a series of e-mails with Schultz that confirmed he would be paid 25 percent of profits if Schultz got his television show. In March 2009, Queen states that MSNBC reached out to Schultz directly to offer him a show. After that point, Schultz cut off all contact, according to the complaint.
The case is before U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell.