“In 1980, a few months before Charlie Ergen co-founded the company that would become Dish Network, he and a gambling buddy strode into a Lake Tahoe casino with the intention of winning a fortune by counting cards. Ergen, then 27, had bought a book called Playing Blackjack as a Business and studied the cheat sheets. Unfortunately for him, a security guard caught his pal lip-syncing numbers as the cards were dealt. The two were kicked out and subsequently banned from the casino.
More than three decades later, Ergen, now 60, again stands accused of cheating the house — but this time the house is here, nestled in the confines of executive suites from Burbank to Beverly Boulevard. And now, Ergen’s Englewood, Co.-based Dish Network, the nation’s third-largest satellite/cable TV provider, a public company that’s grown from a $60,000 startup to an empire with 14 million subscribers and $14 billion in annual revenue, is the entertainment industry’s Enemy No. 1. With increasing frequency, Ergen has engaged in ugly, high-stakes games of chicken with Hollywood. In his brutal battle over ballooning carriage fees with AMC, he dropped The Walking Dead and Mad Men network from the Dish system for months. He also has spent years fighting with broadcasters over the practice of distantly retransmitting TV signals without a license and even was caught violating a promise to stop that he made under oath — all while Dish was named “America’s worst company to work for” by a watchdog website. But all that was just preamble to the Hopper.”
” . . . . During the mid-2000s, when Ergen was fighting TiVo over who owned rights to DVR technology, not only did TiVo convince a court that Dish had violated a patent, but the judge in the case found it “distasteful” that Ergen’s company would “engage in an ad campaign that touted its DVRs as ‘better than TiVo’ while continuing to infringe TiVo’s patent.” In 2009, Dish officially was sanctioned by the court. (The parties later settled.)
Perhaps most notoriously, there were the irate judges who officiated Dish’s recent battle with Cablevision/AMC after Dish terminated a 15-year deal to carry the Voom networks, a suite of 21 little-watched HD channels such as Kung Fu HD and Film Fest HD. In the early days of the case, Dish was penalized for “bad faith” or “gross negligence” in the destruction of internal company emails. A visibly angry New York Supreme Court Judge Richard Lowe later threatened to launch an investigation unless Dish documents were turned over. The suit became so ugly that at one point, Dish executive Carolyn Crawford hit the father of the opposing side’s lawyer on her way out of the courtroom. She later apologized in open court.
In a sexual harassment case in Maryland in 2005, a judge wrote that “EchoStar [was] guilty of gross spoliation of evidence.” In a 2012 trademark dispute, a judge said of Dish lawyers that he had never encountered “such divisiveness or contentiousness” in his 17 years on the bench.
“Most corporations have an institutional bias against litigation and see it as necessary evil,” says one network insider. “But for Charlie, that’s how he likes to run his company. You’ll never see him suing in his home state, though. Their name is mud in Colorado. Judges are on to them.” . . .