(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., reopened the deposition of former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, saying he couldn’t refuse to answer questions about the fees he earns to help businesses renegotiate contracts.
Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire and former chief of staff for President George H.W. Bush, joined former U.S. ambassador Victor Frank in suing Philippine Airlines for failing to pay them a “success fee” after they persuaded World Airways to lower its aircraft lease rates.
Sununu and Frank claimed they used their “prestige, reputations and personal contacts to successfully persuade World Airways to lower the lease rates,” and that the airline “has been unjustly enriched by receiving the benefits of the lower rates” without having to pay for them.
Sununu and Frank seek either “the fair and reasonable rate” of 10 percent or the 4 percent fee outlined in their agreement.
They sued Philippine Airlines for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and fraud, but U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola tossed the contract claim, saying the plaintiffs failed to hold up their end of the bargain “to merit payment of a success fee.”
To prove their claims of unjust enrichment and fraud, Sununu and Frank have to establish that the industry standard rate is 10 percent. They decided to use Sununu as a fact witness, but claimed that he was not required to disclose the basis of his opinions.
When questioned by the airline’s counsel, Sununu refused to answer certain questions about previous renegotiations, saying, “I’m not going to tell you.”
“By refusing to provide defendant with information about, for example, the amount of effort other contracts required, the amount of time needed, the amount of international travel involved, whether a lot of research was required, and the tenure of the contract … he is refusing to provide defendant with clearly relevant information,” Facciola wrote.
“Without knowing any of the specifics of plaintiffs’ other contracts, defendant cannot possibly assess and then potentially dispute plaintiffs’ claims.”
Facciola called Sununu’s refusal to answer certain questions “improper,” unless he claims a privilege.
“Answering, ‘I am not going to tell you,’ is a response that the Federal Rules do not countenance.”
The magistrate judge reopened Sununu’s deposition, ordered the transcript sealed and directed all parties “not to disclose, disseminate, or transmit anything Sununu says.”