Roberts in Merenbach's office, with his wife Linda Keifer.
News-Press Owner Threatened with “Massive Retaliation”
Former Editor Denies and Denounces Child Porn Article
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Former Santa Barbara News-Press editor Jerry Roberts angrily denounced a front page article in Sunday’s edition of the News-Press, indicating that he may have downloaded thousands of pornographic images involving children and minors as “libelous,” a “smear,” and an “unconscionable story.” At a late afternoon press conference held at the office of attorney Dennis Merenbach, Roberts “absolutely, 100 percent, and unequivocally” denied that he ever downloaded any child pornography.
Roberts said that he and his attorneys are still exploring their legal options, but strongly suggested that he will seek “massive damages” against the News-Press and its owner Wendy McCaw. During the press conference, Roberts was red of face and visibly angry, as he stated, “As a journalist, it is notable that this cowardly story was published without a byline and without any attempt to contact me in advance of its publication.” Throughout the press conference, Roberts frequently reached over to hold the hand of his wife, Linda Kiefer, who delivered a brief and tearful comment of support for her husband.
By Paul Wellman
Jerry Robert’s attorney Dennis Merenbach holds up the News-Press “front page smear.”
The News-Press article in question did not come right out and accuse Roberts. Instead, the article reported how the News-Press was taking legal actions to retrieve the pornography-riddled hard drives from the city police who have them in custody. The police have declined to release the computer drives to the News-Press because the child porn images are legally considered contraband. Possession of child pornography is against the law. Because the computer was a used machine when the News-Press purchased it and because other people at the newspaper used it before Roberts was hired as editor, the police investigator assigned to the case concluded it was impossible to determine the identity of the person who downloaded the child pornography. Likewise, Eric Hansen, chief trial lawyer with the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office, concluded on March 2, “Given that multiple persons had either access to or use of the computer during its several year existence at the News-Press, there appears to be no single viable suspect. Additionally, there are no remaining investigative leads as to who put the images on the computer.”
Roberts quit the News-Press last July over ethical and professional differences with News-Press owner and copublisher McCaw. His resignation-and the ethical and personal tensions at the paper-triggered an on-going meltdown that has garnered no shortage of unfavorable publicity for McCaw and her paper. Initially, McCaw sued Roberts for $500,000, though the action took place within a contractually required and confidential arbitration process rather than an open public legal dispute within the confines of Superior Court. Roberts counter-sued for $10 million, and McCaw upped the ante, suing Roberts for $25 million.
By Paul Wellman
An angry Jerry Roberts.
In the context of the arbitration process, Roberts said he first heard that technical experts hired by McCaw discovered a bounty of “erased” pornographic images on his computer’s hard drive. Roberts’ computer had been seized shortly after he quit, and its contents have been exhaustively reviewed by McCaw’s security experts. It was then that the existence of these ghost images became known. Roberts and his attorney stressed that the computer had no password protection, meaning that anybody could use it.
A teary Linda Keifer, wife of Jerry Roberts.