Scott and Deirdre Gurney, Duck Dynasty creators and founders of Gurney Productions, have served notice that they are preparing a countersuit against ITV just days after the UK commercial broadcaster simultaneously fired the couple and made moves to sue them over allegations of fraud.
“The claims against the Gurneys are completely baseless and fraught with contradictions, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods. My clients are considering all of their legal options and are preparing to respond accordingly,” said lawyer Michael E. Weinsten of Lavely & Singer, in a statement to realscreen in support of the Gurney’s pending counter claim.
According to the statement, the Gurneys (pictured) accuse ITV of a “greedy corporate grab” in which the broadcaster falsified claims of self-dealing, fraudulent concealment, breach of contract and misappropriated funds in order to lower the value of the pair’s minority stake in Gurney Productions.
ITV was expected to buy out the Gurneys’ remaining interest in 2017 for a price based on previous years’ earnings. However, if the couple was to be fired “for cause” from their CEO positions the value in that purchase price would decrease “significantly,” it reads.
It further states the Gurneys will pursue “substantial counter claims” against the broadcaster following its decision to “unjustly and illegally” terminate their employment, adding the couple “strongly dispute the illegitimate claims of impropriety made by ITV and look forward to proving them false.”
The Gurneys sold a 61.5% membership interest in their production studio to ITV in December 2012 for US$40 million, while retaining the balance of the shares and staying on as co-CEOs. The Gurneys also remained on the board of directors, which also includes David McGraynor, Andrew Garard and Brent Montgomery.
Among the allegations in ITV’s court filing on Dec. 9 are that, despite agreements to not compete for business with the company, the Gurneys secretly formed a separate company – Snake River Productions – after having sold over majority stake in Gurney Productions to ITV. The report claims that the producers were not only channeling the company’s corporate business through Snake River, but they were also defrauding the company by “securing a substantially higher payout for themselves and their closely held company Little Win, when ITV bought them out.”
Upon learning about these irregularities, the ITV board launched a more thorough investigation, which they allege, showed even more irregularities and breaches of contract. These, their filing states, include “poaching of company employees” for Snake River, unauthorized distribution of funds to Scott Gurney and an improper use of company money for personal use.
According to Weinsten, ITV’s lawyers attempted to claim at a recent board meeting that the non-compete clause was breached due to Snake River being pitched a handful of game shows, “despite the fact that game shows are not considered reality-based TV.”
The Gurneys maintain that the newly formed and not-yet-operational Snake River is not a reality-based television company and, therefore, the non-compete provision in the agreement does not apply.