A judge reserved decision Friday on efforts by John Murphy, the former Channel 7 sports director, for a legal green light to begin seeking a new television job in the Buffalo market.
State Supreme Court Justice Joseph G. Makowski did not indicate when he will rule in a dispute concerning the one-year no-compete clause in Murphy's last contract with WKBW-TV. The sportscaster is seeking a preliminary injunction clearing him to talk with other television stations.
Since July, Murphy has been under contract with the Citadel Communications radio conglomerate to serve as play-by-play commentator on Buffalo Bills games. His latest contract with Channel 7 for on-air work ended Sept. 16 when he and station executives could not reach agreement on a new deal.
Murphy worked at Channel 7 for 18 years before he rejected an offer for a new three-year pact that contained a proposed pay cut.
Murphy's attorneys, R. Scott DeLuca and J. David Sampson, filed suit last month against Channel 7 seeking to void his one-year non-compete clause. Channel 7 operates as Queen City Broadcasting of New York as a Granite Broadcasting Corp. station. Queen City is represented by attorneys Stephen E. Tisman of New York City and Cheryl A. Green of Buffalo.
Makowski said he will have to determine "the intent of the parties" in Murphy's now-expired television contract and the "reasonableness" of the one-year non-compete clause.
Murphy's attorneys gave the judge a signed affidavit from retired Buffalo television anchorwoman Susan Banks in which she contended a two-to-three-month no-compete clause would be more reasonable. Tisman said Banks "has not been credited as an expert" on such broadcast industry matters.
DeLuca said a yearlong layoff from television would cause Murphy irreparable harm in terms of future work as an on-air television personality. The attorney conceded under the judge's questioning that as a television personality, Murphy "is not unique or extraordinary."
Tisman contended Murphy "has been extremely highly compensated" by Channel 7 and is seeking court permission to "go market himself" to the station's competitors in the Buffalo television market.
Tisman and Green stressed that under Murphy's contract with Channel 7, he could have always accepted "a plum job" with any National Football League-affiliated national television entity and simply walked away from the local station.
But Tisman stressed that Channel 7 has a "protectable interest" in keeping Murphy from working for one of its competitors in Buffalo for a full year because of the following Murphy developed during his time on the air. Murphy, who attended the noontime court session, declined comment afterward.