Lawsuit airs story on loss of air time

The Baltimore Sun

It was on Jan. 23, 2007, that Tyrone Powers walked into the offices of radio station WEAA on the campus of Morgan State University. The time was shortly before 6 p.m. Powers had two guests waiting to be interviewed for his show, The Powers Report.

Powers never made it into the studio. Neither did his guests. According to Powers' version of events, Donald Lockett, then general manager of WEAA, told him the show wouldn't air that night. Powers alleged that Lockett told him and Leslie Parker Blyther, the executive producer of his show, that "I got an e-mail to suspend your show indefinitely, immediately."

That quote is from a news release Powers' attorneys issued Jan. 11, the day they filed a nearly $90 million lawsuit against Earl Richardson, Morgan's president, and the state of Maryland. Yesterday, Powers talked to me about why he filed the lawsuit, and why he waited a year to do it.

"We waited a year to give all the time to do the right thing," said Powers, who said that "doing the right thing" would involve parties at Morgan telling what Powers feels are the facts about what happened.

Powers' version of the truth is recounted in detail in the lawsuit, which said The Powers Report "featured discussions involving almost every Maryland politician, both Democrat and Republican. [It] discussed issues regarding [former Gov. Robert Ehrlich] and discussed legislation and policy initiatives that [Powers] disagreed with, however, Gov. Ehrlich never moved to threaten Morgan dollars, contact Dr. Richardson or WEAA, or to have [Powers] removed from the air."

The lawsuit alleges that Powers learned, through Lockett, that on or about Jan. 9, 2007, Richardson got a call from Kweisi Mfume, former NAACP president and congressman, about comments Powers made that were critical of then-Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley. Mfume was, and is, a supporter of the governor. Lockett, according to the lawsuit, was ordered to pull every tape of the show in which a critical reference to O'Malley was made.

Two weeks later, after Ehrlich handed over the gubernatorial reins to O'Malley, Powers and his show were banished from the airwaves of WEAA, never to return.

The lawsuit basically rehashes allegations Powers made a year ago. Spokesmen from Morgan and O'Malley's office answered those allegations. In short, they denied everything. O'Malley's former spokesman, Steve Kearney, said, "The governor's not sure who [Powers] is, but he certainly did not speak with anyone about his show."

Days after Kearney's statement, former police Commissioner Ed Norris, now a local radio talk show host, said that O'Malley should be dead-certain about who Powers is. O'Malley, according to Norris, pointed out Powers to him when Norris was going through the confirmation process as commissioner.

"O'Malley and his staff knew [Powers] really well," Norris said. "They gave me the entire rundown on this guy's career."

Mfume said he knew nothing of the matter. Morgan spokesman Clinton Coleman said that neither Mfume nor anyone from the governor's office had contacted anyone at the school, and that The Powers Report wasn't suspended but "pre-empted."

Who's telling the truth and who's not has yet to be determined, but Powers has insisted he's willing to give his version under oath and face a penalty of perjury if caught lying. Powers' news release indicated that several people will be deposed, including - but by no means limited to - Lockett; Mfume; state Sens. Nathaniel McFadden and Joan Carter Conway; Del. Jill Carter; Burney Hollis, dean of Morgan's school of liberal arts; WEAA news director Kortney Alston; and WEAA engineering director Zachary Coleman.

The news release said all those named above are "non-party individuals who have specific knowledge regarding what happened." Powers said he expects that his lawyer, Jimmy A. Bell, will have them give sworn depositions within the next 45 days.

Coleman said neither Richardson nor anyone else at Morgan would comment on the lawsuit, citing university policy. O'Malley's office referred me to James Lyons, the state secretary of higher education, who said he couldn't comment on legal matters either.

Powers said that he filed the lawsuit because his show was about criticizing government officials and urging listeners to fight for their rights.

"You have to practice what you preach," Powers said. "It wasn't about me; it wasn't about getting money from the system. [Talk show hosts who follow] me have to know their voices won't be squelched."

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