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A Trying Trial

The News-Press‘s Week in Court


On the Beat

Chopped Liver Mayor: Many of us former News-Pressers greeted our subpoenas with less than joy, but Mayor Marty Blum feels a bit put out at not getting one.

I have been slighted,” lamented the mayor, a frequent target of News-Press slams. “No subpoena. No cease and desist letter.”

I know Her Honor was just jiving me, tongue-in-cheek. But after NP attorney Barry Cappello blizzarded the ex-staffers scattered up and down the coast with orders to appear at the current federal prosecution of the NP, Marty shouldn’t be too surprised if a process server shows up at her City Hall office.

But as things now stand, Marty can, if she so desires, pop into the current National Labor Relations Board trial of NP owner Wendy McCaw over more than a dozen unfair labor law violations.

But if she’d been subpoenaed, as I was, guards would stop her at the courtroom door. Witnesses aren’t allowed in. There’s suspicion among some of the dozens papered by Cappello that maybe the intent was to keep them out. I, of course, would never harbor such cynical doubts, but you know how skeptical journalists are. There was even some talk to tossing blogger supreme Craig Smith out of court as a possible witness.

While loitering at the U.S.(Moral) Bankruptcy Court building (formerly an I. Magnin department store that sold high fashions for women), where the trial is being held, I was told that Cappello also subpoenaed McCaw. If so, I guess that means she’s banned too, unless and until she’s called to testify. Bets are flying about whether she’ll take the witness stand. I doubt it. But if she does, seats will be a hot ticket.

To make the whole affair even more surreal, Wendy owns the place. And if she’s really interested in banning bias and not just using it as a trumped-up excuse for firing the union folks and stomping all over their legal right to unionize, she might take a gander at the NP‘s front page story on the trial that ran on Wednesday. It reads like Cappello himself wrote it. But I guess he didn’t have to.

Then there’s this business of Yolanda (“Angel of Death”) Apodaca, the paper’s human resources chief. Reporter Melissa Evans says that when she confided in Apodaca about her drinking problem months ago and her need to go on leave, Yolanda promised confidentiality. For the life of me I don’t know how Cappello somehow found out about it, or why he decided to air a private matter, but while quizzing associate editor Scott Steepleton in court Wednesday, he asked if Evans perhaps had “a substance abuse problem.” To some, that might imply drugs or illegal substances, which wasn’t the case.

The sleaze gets deeper and this is only the first week of the trial. I repeat my prediction: NLRB Administrative Law Judge William Kocol will rule against the News-Press on all or most of the unfair labor practices and Wendy will appeal it well into the next century, if necessary.

Mobile Home Ban: An edict from Sotheby’s corporate office banning mobile home listings has roiled the normally staid Santa Barbara-area offices of the high-end real estate firm.

A top producer promptly quit and signed on with a competitor. Others are allegedly saying they’re ready to decamp. Realtors I talked to feel that It was no coincidence that the ban came down soon after a Wall Street Journal story poked fun at Sotheby’s - famed for its multi-million-dollar listings - for marketing a $34,000 Goleta mobile home.

Here is a copy of the WSJ article we spoke about,” one agent e-mailed me. “I definitely do not want you using my name, as I currently work for Sotheby’s and haven’t decided what company I’m going to go to yet. But I will be leaving Sotheby’s for sure, [I’m] just not sure when. Anyway, I don’t want to be asked to leave, which is a real possibility if you use my name.”

Selling mobile homes is an important aspect of the job and the units are an important affordable first home for many before moving on to condos and then stand-alone houses, the agent told me.

The company’s venture into the land of carports and double-wides has been the source of much delight amongst agents at its chief competitor, Christie’s Great Estates,” the WSJ wrote. A former Sotheby’s agent now with Christie’s keeps a photo of a Sotheby’s listing for a hot dog stand in his desk drawer, the WSJ said. But Sotheby’s executives say the company is still a luxury brokerage, with more than 800 U.S. listings for $5 million or more. Sotheby’s folks here are lamenting that things haven’t been the same since Dave Pitts, beloved owner of Pitts & Bachmann realty, died and corporate Sotheby’s took over.

Law & Odor: Asks Karen Christman: “So if you are smoking marijuana while using a gas-powered leaf blower and jaywalking across the street to retrieve your ‘borrowed’ shopping cart from Ralph’s, what is the law enforcement priority according to the voters?”

Well, Karen, let’s see. Since everyone seems to walk off with supermarket carts without penalty, I guess that’s way down there, along with the voter-approved lowest police priority for smoking dope. But what if the cops spot you jaywalking and using an illegal gas-powered dirt blower while in possession of pot? Somewhere in that cloud of maryjane-flavored grit and dust there’s bound to be a citation, as long as one of our reckless Santa Barbara speeders doesn’t slam into you.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com” or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays and a print column on Thursdays.

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