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Drunks and Subpoenas


Fiesta Drunkathon? So there are two Fiestas: one a delightful community block party, the other a drunkathon for people who hit town with no interest other than mass partying downtown.

Old Spanish Days is a victim of its own success. Volunteers put on a wonderful week of events-most of them free-but Fiesta has also become a lure for those looking for a wild scene at the bars. Because the city has permitted a wall-to-wall nightclub Mecca, our Fiesta has become the place to live it up in Southern California. Even though drinking in public is banned, on Friday’s parade day, the clubs were jammed with revelers with their backs turned to the horses, carriages, and bands.

On the Beat

And tragically, two groups from Oxnard clashed on the sidewalk in the 600 block of State Street and decided to settle their problems right there. When one man in the fight whipped out his .45 and aimed it, police shot him down. Bullets were flying, cops were running to the scene, and people were diving for cover. Luckily, no one else was hit.

I don’t know if any of the fighters had been boozing it up in the clubs, but I don’t think they’d have been there if it were a row of tea shops full of sedate ladies in pink frocks and wearing big hats. And what’s up with coming to Fiesta with a .45 in your pocket and another gun back in the pickup? Was he in town to check out the antique shops?

I talked to police the morning after the shooting. They’d worked all night investigating. If officers hadn’t been on the spot and taken quick action, who knows how many dead bodies-including those of innocent pedestrians in the line of fire-would have been leaking blood on the downtown sidewalk?

So now what? I’ve heard many suggestions, many of them impractical: Close the bars during Fiesta. Ban booze sales. Block off the nightclub area and screen those who want to enter, as is done in many community events elsewhere. Impose a bar tax to help pay for the extra law enforcement. Limit the number of liquor licenses.

City Council elections are coming up. Street safety surely will be, and should be, a campaign issue.

I’m Subpoenaed! Yep, attorneys for the News-Press are demanding that I-along with as many as 60 or 70 other former employees (according to reports)-appear at next Tuesday’s federal trial of the newspaper, my former employer. I’ll be there, but the question is: Will the star witness take the stand? That, of course, would be owner Wendy McCaw herself.

Why Wendy wants us all jammed into the U.S. Bankruptcy Court building (which she owns) on State Street that day is beyond me. After all, considering the ill will McCaw has created among the legions of dear departed, does she expect to extract flowery testimony from them as to her beneficent management style and professional treatment of employees?

Or, as some suggest, is this just harassment, trying to throw a scare into us? And if we are to be sequestered as witnesses and not allowed to sit in the courtroom and listen to the proceedings, those of us working journalists won’t be able to report from an eyewitness standpoint.

Just why they want me sitting in some room while the trial goes on elsewhere is a mystery to me. And if called, what do I have to offer on behalf of the newspaper’s case? As far as I know, all the unfair labor practices the paper’s accused of, including firing eight reporters after a demonstration and terminating two others earlier, occurred after I cleared out my office and quit on July 6, 2006.

And from what I understand, some of the Subpoenaed Ones were not active in the union organizing campaign and not even eligible. And in some cases, they held jobs far removed from the dispute, including a secretary, ad manager, a special sections editor in advertising, and several community columnists who worked outside the building. Many are baffled by being called.

I keep reading petulant statements to the effect that as a business owner, Wendy has the absolute right to fire employees as she wishes. Not so, during a labor dispute. Longstanding federal laws ban punitive action against workers trying to assert their legal rights to organize. But those same labor laws are largely toothless, and enforcement can be strung out indefinitely by a rich owner who apparently cares little about the effect of a prolonged dispute on her business.

The trial will go on for a month, including off days. The prediction around town: The NP will be found at fault for most, if not all, of the 15 unfair labor practices, but will then appeal. And you know what that’s likely to mean: This case will disappear down a long and winding road of endless litigation and pettifoggery. Isn’t that the NP strategy?

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 965-5205. He also writes online columns at independent.com on Tuesdays and Fridays.

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