A sworn affidavit from an executive at WPIX confirming that the network never made a formal offer to broadcast the 2016 New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade is among the documents in a court filing that seeks to dismiss a lawsuit brought against parade board chairman Dr. John Lahey and member Francis Comerford by John Dunleavy, who served for 22 years as chairman of the board’s Parade and Celebration Committee before stepping down in November.
The filing from Mitch Mandell, a partner at the law firm Thompson & Knight which is representing Lahey and Comerford, was made on December 30 at Bronx Supreme Court, where Dunleavy lodged his original challenge against Lahey last October alleging that Lahey was attempting to take over the parade and was working in partnership with Comerford, a high-ranking executive at NBC, to keep the TV rights with WNBC even though WPIX, according to Dunleavy, had made a better financial offer.
On December 23, WPIX Vice President and Station Manager Robert Marra provided an affidavit which stated that Dunleavy’s secretary Carla Chadwick contacted the network last May to gauge its interest in broadcasting the 2016 march. Marra and WPIX President and General Manager Richard Graziano met with Dunleavy and Chadwick to talk about the broadcast, with the two network executives under the impression that the WNBC deal expired last year.
In June Marra and Graziano put a preliminary proposal together for WPIX to broadcast the parade that, Marra stressed, would ultimately require approval from WPIX’s parent company Tribune Broadcasting. The proposal was withdrawn in August after the executives learned Dunleavy’s role in the parade was diminished after a board vote in June, and after Chadwick informed the executives that WNBC owned the TV rights for 2016.
“Significantly, at no time was the proposal ever reviewed, let alone approved, by Tribune Broadcasting or Tribune Media and, therefore, never constituted a final offer by WPIX to broadcast the parade,” Marra stated in the affidavit.
The motion filed by Mandell called Dunleavy’s lawsuit “patently meritless,” filed by “a disgruntled and disgraced director of a non-profit corporation unwilling to abide the unanimous [June] vote of the corporation’s board of directors to appoint Lahey to the newly created position of chairman and the nearly unanimous vote to include a second LGBT group to march in the 2016 parade.”
The motion highlights the fact that Comerford, chief revenue officer and president of commercial operations for NBCUniversal owned television stations, was asked to join the parade board by Dunleavy 18 years ago “specifically because of his role at NBC,” the motion states.
“At no time during that time period did Dunleavy or any other member of the board object that NBC’s broadcast of the parade constituted a conflict of interest.”
The motion denies the claim by Dunleavy and members of the parade’s affiliated organizations that Lahey wants to remove language in the board’s by-laws stating that the parade honors St. Patrick – “that language still exists – in the very first sentence of the by-laws – and there is no proposal to eliminate it” – and confirms the board’s refusal to recognize those elected to the Parade and Celebration Committee on November 30 because the meeting was illegally called by Dunleavy, who relinquished his chairmanship of the committee at that time.
A forensic audit of parade finances which revealed unauthorized expenditures of parade funds incurred by Dunleavy, Chadwick and former board member Michael Cassels is also highlighted in the motion. Dunleavy’s charges for a male enhancement drug, travel and other unapproved expenses on the parade’s credit card, as well as Cassels’ and Chadwick’s expenses, were reported by the board to the New York State Attorney General’s Office in November. A subsequent letter to the board from James G. Sheehan, chief of the office’s Charities Bureau, requested supporting documentation for the expenses in question, which the board is in the process of compiling.
The motion also stated that Chadwick was subpoenaed by Lahey and Comerford’s legal team to provide a deposition about her unapproved expenditures, but canceled at the last minute without providing an alternate date. “Defendants expect to file a motion to hold Chadwick in contempt in the very near future,” the motion stated.
Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and grand marshal of the parade in 1997, also provided an affidavit in which he outlined his belief that “this dispute is rooted in Dunleavy’s steadfast opposition to allowing LGBT groups to participate in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Dunleavy has been a staunch and vocal critic of having any LGBT groups march in the parade. I had many discussions with Dunleavy about this issue, but we were never able to come to agreement.”
The sides are due to meet in court later this month.