About two hours after jury selection was to have begun, Common Pleas Court Judge Marlene Lachman announced Friday that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had stayed the trial of the civil suit by Alycia Lane against her former coanchor Larry Mendte and their ex-employer, CBS, pending a ruling on a change-of-venue petition filed by the broadcaster.
It could be weeks or months before the trial resumes - wherever it resumes. A spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts would say only that "it's really unclear as to how long it will take."
CBS based its request on a clause in Lane's multiyear, $780,000-per-year contract with the network that said all claims arising out of her employment or that interpreted parts of the contract would be heard only in New York City courts.
Lane's contract with CBS was terminated on Jan. 7, 2008, after a series of incidents, including her arrest in New York after an encounter with police there. No charges ultimately were filed.
The claims in her lawsuit include negligence on the part of CBS for failing to stop Mendte from hacking into her e-mail and disseminating messages and photos to news outlets, and defamation when it linked the arrest to the contract termination. Mendte pleaded guilty to that e-mail intrusion and in 2008 was sentenced to six months of house arrest and probation. Lane filed her lawsuit that same year for an unspecified amount of damages.
The suit also names former CBS3 general manager Michael Colleran as a defendant.
Mendte and his attorney declined to comment on the latest lawsuit developments. CBS's and Colleran's attorneys could not be reached. CBS3 issued a written statement on Friday saying, "We are pleased with today's ruling. We look forward to continuing to present our arguments on the New York venue issue to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court."
Lane's attorney, Paul Rosen, also issued a statement Friday: "This marks the final attempt by CBS and Larry Mendte to prevent the trial and the truth from being heard. However, it is only a temporary delay. We are confident this case will resume in Philadelphia in the same courtroom, before the same judge, and Alycia Lane will, once and for all, get her day in court, and prevail as she would have today."
Both Lane and Mendte were in the courtroom Friday, along with Colleran and an army of lawyers. The former colleagues did not interact. Wooden seats, numbered to 50, were ready for a pool of potential jurors who ended up never going inside the courtroom.