Steve Kelley has lawsuit pending against Dennis Leonard, Channel 31

Earlier today, we published a story about the impending departure of controversial Channel 31/The Deuce general manager Dennis Leonard, who's announced he's leaving the station.

Since word about that broke, there's been speculation aplenty among local media watchers about whether Leonard jumped (his assertion in a press release) or was pushed. Against that backdrop, Steve Kelley, who was ousted from his Channel 31 morning-show slot early in Leonard's tenure, reveals that he has a lawsuit pending against Leonard and the stations alleging numerous sins, including breech of contract.

"We filed last March," Kelley says -- although he confirms "it's the last thing I wanted to do. I think we're too litigious as a society to begin with, and I never realized how difficult they can be. They're particularly insidious, because they're always about looking backward. But I felt that it was the right thing to do -- something I needed to do.

"I did it not only on my own behalf, but because of all the other people who had been unceremoniously blown out, too."

The reason for the breech of contract claim?

"I believe clearly and without question that there was an oral agreement made after the expiration of my contract," he says. "It was an odd time, in that there was a transition coinciding with the expiration of the contract. But I would press continually, asking, 'What's my status?' I've worked 32 years in this market, and I've never worked without an agreement."

Other assertions in the suit include misrepresentation; Kelley says, "There were people who made promises to me," although he can't go into detail at this point.

Kelley admits to trepidations about the suit. "The fear is, you'll be blacklisted, and my main goal is to get a job and be back on the air," he says.

Of late, he's been filling in at KOA radio, his old stomping ground, on a part time basis, and he's very grateful for the opportunity. But his inability to find a fulltime broadcasting position "has been financially devastating. I've had to draw from my only source of money, that being my IRA -- and you're penalized and taxed when you make premature withdrawals from a retirement vehicle like that.

"I've tried everything. I've tried to refinance, I've tried to get some loans, lines of credit -- but you can't do anything without a job. Even guys I worked with in the mortgage business for years have said, 'Look, we love you, we've done a ton of deals with you, but without a job, we can't even refinance you.'"

A trial on Kelley's suit was originally scheduled to get underway during late March. However, it was continued wo days ago, and new dates have yet to be finalized. In the meantime, Kelley says attempts at mediation are ongoing: "That door hasn't been completely closed." But if the matter goes to trial, he's ready.

"This isn't solely about the money," he emphasizes. "I don't think it's possible for me to be made whole given my unique skill set and my unique situation. I don't think I'll be able to recover everything at this age. So it's also about the damage that's been done."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts