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Melinda Burns outside the NLRB hearing

Paul Wellman

Melinda Burns outside the NLRB hearing


News-Press Trial Rolls On

Friday’s Hearing Poses More Questions Than Answers


Former Santa Barbara News-Press assistant city editor Bob Guiliano was back on the stand for the better part of Friday, September 24, answering questions from News-Press attorney Barry Cappello about some strange e-mails he sent to paper owner and co-publisher Wendy McCaw after he’d been terminated. Guiliano also answered questions about statements he made in his court affidavit.

Cappello pointed out, and Guiliano confirmed, that in the affidavit (and subsequent amendments to the document), there was not a word about associate editor Scott Steepleton lying or committing perjury in reference to former reporter Leana Orsua saying that Steepleton had lied on the stand when he testified during January’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing regarding the NP employees’ union vote. This statement came after Thursday’s testimony from Guiliano, who then said that Orsua didn’t want to write a story about the NLRB hearing during which Steepleton testified because she couldn’t report about her boss lying on the stand, which Guiliano asserted Orsua had told him over the phone. The testimony appeared to conflict with Steepleton’s testimony two weeks ago, during which he said that he couldn’t remember who wrote the story, which lacked a byline.

Guiliano also said that McCaw and Steepleton never spoke to him about any union employee activities.

Cappello submitted for evidence a number of emails that were sent from Guiliano to McCaw after Guiliano’s firing in January of 2007. Guiliano said he wrote McCaw because he wanted to complete the assignment he came to Santa Barbara frm San Diego to do: “Help fix Mrs. McCaw’s newspaper.” But in two particular emails Guiliano drafted to his former publisher, he chose an interesting way to offer advice. In a March 26 email to McCaw, Guiliano wrote:

I hate flying so, if my plane crashes good luck with your newspaper. I’ll try to come back to you as a friendly ghost, if I can. But if I can’t, I wish you the best! If I can, I’ll let you know I’m present by rearranging your jewelry in a clockwise position on your dresser bureau. ;)

Sincerely, Bob G. :)

Cappello asked Guiliano if his intent was to unnerve McCaw, then explaining that he was trying to prove that Guiliano never wanted to come back to the paper. Cappello did offer the ending of another, more cryptic email from Guiliano, which read:

I do have a backup plan if you don’t want to hire me back to help you fix the paper. My dad suggested the Spanish Army of the French Foreign Legion. Is that what they call tough love? I did enjoy the movie, Four Feathers, with Beau Bridges and Jane Seymour. And I also enjoyed the one about Laurel and Hardy joining the French Foreign Legion. They made it look exciting and fun! ;)

The End :)

P.S. I’m telling you this stuff because I still care about you and want to finish the job I started, help you turn the newspaper around and make a success out of it, even if I have to do it as a non-employee.

After reading the excerpts, Cappello asked Guiliano if the purpose of the emails was to frighten McCaw or intimidate her. Guiliano replied in the negative. And, despite his sentiments, Guiliano testified that he didn’t believe McCaw was a good publisher. From there Cappello moved on to a printed letter written by Guiliano to McCaw and her fiance/co-publisher Arthur Von Weisenberger. In the letter, Guiliano wrote that former reporter Anna Davison‘s story about a beautification project on State Street was “weak” in that it did not get both sides of the story, “as we agreed.” This writing appeared to conflict, as Cappello pointed out, with Guiliano’s testimony from Thursday, when he said he thought the story was balanced. Guiliano explained that he had read in a training manual that to improve communication - or to diffuse situations - it is sometimes okay to tell someone what they want to hear instead of the whole truth, which is what he said he did in this situation. Cappello then asked if Guiliano was a “yes man.” After hesitating, Guiliano replied, “No, I’m not a ‘yes man.’”

Cappello then brought up a posting that Guiliano had made on the Independent‘s online Santa Barbara Media Blog; a blog Guiliano characterized as “balanced” when asked by Cappello if it was “virulently anti-News-Press.” The characterization made Cappello turn from the podium, shake his head, and smile. While Cappello clearly didn’t agree with the characterization, he continued on, asking about comments Guiliano made in response to a February 19 story written by Matt Kettman entitled “Fired Editor May Hold Key to News-Press Bias.” Guiliano explained that he posted on the website to correct a few factual errors made in the article. Cappello then asked about some of Guiliano’s comments regarding human resources director Yolanda Apodaca - particularly one in which Guiliano characterized her as “totally incapable of advising management.”

That’s not a kind thing to say, is it?” Cappello asked Guiliano. “No, just accurate,” Guiliano responded.

During a break in the day, as Cappello walked toward the back doors of the courtroom, filmmaker Sam Tyler stopped him. Thursday, Judge William Kocol had denied Cappello’s request for Tyler - who’s currently compiling a documentary about the News-Press events over the past year-and-a-half - to hand over his footage. As Cappello approached the doors, Tyler told him he was going to send Cappello one of his films when he was done. “You can watch it and see that I am an objective filmmaker,” Tyler said. But Cappello disagreed with that assertion, responding, “You’re not an objective person.” When Cappello asked Tyler about the questions he was overheard asking at Farmer’s Market, Tyler refused to answer. By this time both men were talking in raised whispers. “I’ve got nothing more to say to you,” Tyler said, as Cappello continued to ask him about his interview methods. “I’ve got nothing more to say to you.”

Fired senior writer Melinda Burns was called to testify after Guiliano stepped off the stand at around 11:15 a.m. NLRB lawyer Brian Gee kicked off the questioning, asking Burns how long she had been with paper (21 years), about awards she’d won (15 total). They then began to establish Burns’s participation in public and private union activities by submitting into evidence several news stories from local media, including the Independent, which showed Burns in photos at rallies and demonstrations. Gee also asked her about private events - such as employees delivering a demand letter to management and participating in union-forming meetings at private residences.

Gee also went through each of Burn’s performance evaluation reviews since 2000, where, according to the evaluations, Burns showed a steady increase in ridding her stories of personal bias. Her overall performance ratings were consistently rated at meeting or exceeding expectations.

Finally, Burns told the story about a February 13 meeting at the Santa Barbara Public Library, which the eight fired newsroom employees had set up with News-Press advertisers. About nine of said advertisers were present when News-Press general counsel David Millstein and accountant Norman Colavincenzo entered and disrupted the meeting, which was set up to urge advertisers to stop doing business with the paper. A heated argument ensued, Burns said, after Teamsters organizer Marty Keegan and fired reporter Dawn Hobbs asked the two to leave. Keegan told Millstein he was breaking the law, to which Millstein replied, “Oh you’re telling me about the law,” Burns said. Keegan then allegedly invited Millstein and Colavincenzo to stay and begin bargaining with the group, since the Teamsters had been attempting to meet with representatives from the paper; but the two left after about 20 minutes.

After Gee rested, Cappello wasted no time, going straight to a letter sent to advertisers which invited them to the aforementioned meeting. The letter was signed by the “organized News-Press newsroom staff.” Cappello asked who of the eight fired employees had looked at the letter before it was mailed to advertisers, and Burns could only remember for sure that Hobbs had seen it. Cappello then explained that some statements in the letter, which he suggested were false and misleading, could be reason to deprive the fired eight from job reinstatement. One of them was a line that asked advertisers to tell McCaw to sit down at the bargaining table with her newsroom employees to “ensure that we can gather and report the news without interference.” The line, Cappello said, implied that McCaw was, in fact, interfering with newsgathering in the first place. Cappello got two instances out of the way, listing two of the now infamous examples of McCaw meddling with the news side of things: the printing of actor Rob Lowe’s address, and the spiked story on editorial page editor Travis Armstrong’s DUI sentencing. Burns cited a profile story about former Carpinteria city councilmember Donna Jordan. She said that then-acting publisher Armstrong - who was filling in while McCaw and Von Weisenberger were on vacation - wanted more negative comments about Jordan in the story. But Cappello stopped her quickly, explaining that McCaw wasn’t interfering in this instance. Burns also cited the News-Press coverage of its own scandal,” but Cappello also said to throw that one out the window because there was no evidence that McCaw was controlling coverage of the union battle.

Cappello alleged that the letter to advertisers also implied that the organized staff was concerned the paper was spreading misinformation to its advertisers. Cappello asked what evidence the employees had to suggest advertisers weren’t receiving true subscription numbers, and Burns explained that the group had inside information from employees still working at the paper who told them that thousands of subscriptions had been canceled. Cappello then asked Burns to name the people giving this information out, but Gee objected, and Kocol agreed. From there Cappello went on to question Burns about several other lines in the letter.

At the end of the day, Cappello expressed concern that the trial might not conclude in the scheduled allotment of time. (The hearing is supposed to end by September 14.) Gee and Wyllie agreed, and Kocol told the two sides to consider when to continue the trial, should they need more time. The NLRB lawyers said they anticipated calling about 13 more witnesses, many of them relatively brief. The hearing continues at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on September 4 at 9 a.m. Cappello’s cross-examination of Burns is expected to continue at that time.

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