Judge says Kucinich can debate tonight; NBC expected to fight

A judge today is to order that Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich be allowed to participate in tonight’s debate.

Alternate District Judge J. Charles Thompson on Monday afternoon said that he will grant a preliminary injunction requested by the long shot candidate. Thompson is expected to sign the order today for Kucinich, attorneys for both sides said.

NBC Universal Inc., which is hosting the debate on its cable channel MSNBC, wants to include only the three top candidates — Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards — and is expected to continue fighting against Kucinich’s inclusion.

Kucinich filed a complaint Monday morning in District Court alleging that NBC broke its contract with him. Kucinich said the network last week invited him to take part in the debate but later rescinded the offer without adequate explanation. He also contended the network wasn’t abiding by federal requirements that it provide equal airtime for candidates.

Thompson, who was sitting in for suspended District Judge Elizabeth Halverson, said Kucinich should be allowed to participate in the debate because the network had earlier said he met the criteria for participating.

“If the criteria was one set of rules and you changed the rules in the middle of the game so as to exclude somebody after having invited them, I’m offended by that,” Thompson said.

Local attorney Don Campbell, who is representing NBC, said after the hearing that the corporation would seek “additional legal redress” after Thompson signs the order. Campbell wouldn’t elaborate.

Kucinich’s attorney, William McGaha, said he was pleased with the ruling. “It’s in everybody’s interest to have the debate and with as many different political viewpoints,” he said.

Kucinich’s complaint stated that Jenny Backus, a debate consultant, invited Kucinich via e-mail on Jan. 9, 2008, to take part in the event. This e-mail was also sent to Chuck Todd, NBC News’ political director, who attended Monday’s hearing.

The invitation was extended to presidential candidates who finished at least fourth in the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire primary, according to the lawsuit.

On Jan. 11, Todd told Kucinich’s campaign that Kucinich couldn’t take part in the campaign because today’s debate is only for the top three candidates, the complaint states.

Richardson came in fourth in New Hampshire and Iowa but later dropped out. Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, who also did better than Kucinich in Iowa, also dropped out.

Kucinich received about 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and zero delegates in Iowa.

Campbell said NBC didn’t breach the Federal Communications Act because the act doesn’t apply to debates broadcast on cable television.

He also said Backus didn’t have the authority to invite Kucinich. Backus was identified in Kucinich’s complaint as a debate consultant for NBC, but Campbell said she is a liaison to NBC News from the Democratic Party.

Kucinich was barred from the Jan. 5 debate in New Hampshire despite the complaint he filed with the Federal Communications Commission alleging that his exclusion by the American Broadcasting Company violated equal-time provisions.

Contact reporter David Kihara at or (702) 380-1039.


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