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Tavis Smiley Blasts PBS CEO Paula Kerger for ‘Running From a Deposition’ in His Case

”Mr. Smiley’s claims are riddled with falsehoods,“ PBS tells TheWrap in a statement

Former PBS host Tavis Smiley blasted his former employer Thursday, accusing the network’s CEO Paula Kerger of using legal tactics to avoid giving a deposition in his case.

Smiley sued PBS in February after the network pulled the plug on his eponymous late-night interview program amid accusations of sexual misconduct last year, and has denied any wrongdoing. PBS countersued Smiley in March, saying that the host violated a morality clause in his contract. The network is also seeking to reclaim $1.9 million in salary it had paid him.

“Why is PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger running from a deposition in my lawsuit?” Smiley asked on Thursday in a statement that was posted to his website.

“From the very beginning, this curious case of alleged sexual misconduct has raised more questions than answers,” Smiley said. “And, now, we have learned that Ms. Kerger is going to ask the judge in this case to protect her from giving a deposition. She apparently thinks the rules don’t apply to her.”

According to Smiley, Kerger’s lawyers have argued that she “is a high-level corporate executive who should be protected from the burdens of deposition.” But Smiley maintained in his statement that “Ms. Kerger has first-hand knowledge of PBS’ decision to suspend and terminate the talk show” and that she was “intimately involved in making executive decisions, granting media interviews, and making public statements disclosing information which PBS has kept secret from us.”

“As we’ve seen time and again, Mr. Smiley’s claims are riddled with falsehoods,” PBS told TheWrap in a statement. “We will continue to vigorously defend ourselves in this meritless case.”

Smiley said that PBS never presented him with the names of his accusers, nor did the network release any details of an investigation into his workplace relationships that led up to his dismissal. In media interviews, Smiley has repeatedly criticized PBS for making, what he called, a “huge mistake.”

In his statement Thursday, Smiley also took aim at the network’s attorney, Grace Speights, an employment litigation specialist in the Washington D.C. office of Morgan Lewis, noting that Speights also defended celebrity chef Paula Deen in her 2013 workplace racial discrimination lawsuit, in which Deen admitted, among other things, that “of course” she has used the “N-word.” The lawsuit was later settled.

“The lawyer advising Ms. Kerger to avoid answering questions, is the same lawyer who represented Paula Deen, who was forced to admit during a deposition that she had used a racial epithet to demean African Americans,” Smiley said.

In December, PBS dropped Smiley’s show for what it said were “multiple, credible allegations” of workplace misconduct. The network did not elaborate on what the specific accusations were. But according to Variety, Smiley had sexual relationships with employees of his company, TS Media, and that some feared their jobs were in jeopardy if they refused.

“From the very beginning, I repeatedly denied these false allegations, and said that PBS conducted a ‘sloppy investigation,'” Smiley said in his statement. “The first set of PBS documents confirm that my sentiment was more on point than I could have ever imagined. Because these documents have been marked ‘confidential’ by PBS, we have to wait until trial for the details of this shoddy investigation to be made public.”

“But, make no mistake about it,” he said, “day one of this trial cannot come soon enough for me. There are few things more tortuous in life than knowing the truth, but being unable to share it.”

Smiley said he does “not know the real reasons why Ms. Kerger is trying to avoid her deposition, although I have my suspicions, based on the evidence.”

“What I can share with you is how we responded to what she told us through her attorneys, who are costing taxpayers and PBS donors millions of dollars,” he added.

Over the summer, a Washington judge denied Smiley’s request that PBS hand over all documents relating to romantic relationships senior network personnel have had with subordinates going back to the early 2000s, arguing that the request was too broad.

And in May, PBS was granted an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss two of his claims: essentially that PBS made false statements that damaged his reputation and his business prospects by extension.

But the judge ruled that PBS was protected by the First Amendment and that “the statement at a time of extraordinary public interest in alleged sexual misconduct by men in positions of power, particularly in news and entertainment.”

PBS was awarded nearly $100,000 in attorneys’ fees following the decision.