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Ethical Misbehavior


Mom in Jail: What’s this? The “mother of the year” spent Mother’s Day behind bars? Sylvia Vasquez, who locked her kids in cages, got sentenced to a cage herself-just for a year in the county jail, which, to many, is nowhere near enough time in the hoosegow. How about until the children are old enough to draw Social Security? What she did to her adopted children wasn’t just child abuse. It was weird, really weird. Sick.

On the Beat

For her crime, the DA’s office and probation both wanted her to cool her heels in the slammer for 10 years. Not content to skirt a prison term, Vasquez fought for five weeks of hearings to have the felony count to which she pleaded dropped to a misdemeanor.

No way, ruled Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa, citing what he termed the severe neglect and psychological damage she inflicted on her four adopted kids, two kept in cages and one locked in a room. One social worker used the word “torture.” Okay, Mommie Dearest will get off with a year, half of it already served.

But now the question is whether she can ever get custody of the children. Judge Ochoa, a parent, is firmly against it, although he has no jurisdiction over that. I’d say this woman should never be allowed custody of any kids.

But why do I have this frightening feeling that she’s going to fight to get the kids back? She can afford it. After all, as an adoptive mother, she was paid $173,637 by the taxpayers over eight years. Yet one of the girls lacked even a single pair of shoes that fit. (For details of the case, see Nick Welsh’s story on page 23.)

I can only hope that these children find loving homes. I have no idea what motivates this woman, but if she violates terms of her probation she’ll have to do those 10 years. If so, I won’t cry.

Shameful Ethics: Does the News-Press “clarification” published Sunday amount to a full retraction that will get the paper off the hook from a libel action by former editor Jerry Roberts? Roberts and his attorneys “are continuing to evaluate the possibility of such litigation,” said his Santa Barbara lawyer, Dennis Merenbach.

Roberts has denied any knowledge of porn found on a News-Press computer hard drive and branded an April 22 News-Press story false and malicious and threatened to seek “massive damages.”

Sunday’s Page One story was labeled a “clarification,” not a retraction as demanded by Roberts. It appeared to back away from the April 22 unsigned story that many felt implied that Roberts might be involved with child pornography found on a computer that he and others editors had used and was reportedly purchased used by the News-Press.

I don’t believe that Roberts or any of the other editors who had regular use of the computer had anything to do with the porn. Was it there when the News-Press bought the computer? Unless the FBI, which has the hard drive and supposedly is investigating, can work miracles, we probably never will learn who did the dirty deed.

Sunday’s “clarification” stated categorically that the April 22 article should not “be read to accuse Mr. Roberts of being responsible for the downloading of child pornography images,” Merenbach said. Still, the smear remains, like a gong that’s been rung and will long reverberate. (Sorry about the mixed metaphors.)

As a legal matter, the clarification was clearly published, as provided in libel law, in order to mitigate any punitive damages that might arise from any defamation suit that Mr. Roberts may file in the future,” Merenbach said. “Under the law, he has one year from publication of the original article to file such an action,” Merenbach said.

However, the clarification does nothing to mitigate the shameful journalistic ethics that allowed the original story to be published in the first place, and the newspaper to be used as a weapon in the ongoing $25-million arbitration between Mr. Roberts and the publishers of the News-Press,” Merenbach continued. “Most importantly, it does nothing to alleviate the pain and harm done to Mr. Roberts and his family by the April 22 article.” Attorney Andrine Smith, who also represents Roberts, criticized the clarification as “little more than a defense to the original defamatory story.” In a statement to Editor & Publisher, Smith added that Sunday’s editor’s note “contains no expression of regret, much less an apology, for pain the original story has caused Mr. Roberts and his family.”

Common sense, in such short supply during this ugly mess, suggests that owner Wendy McCaw drop this campaign of vilification that is hurting the paper’s reputation as well as Roberts’s. Then she should drop her $25-million arbitration claim and Roberts his $10 million-counterclaim, and let all involved go about their lives without this horrible toxic cloud looming over them and the community.

Is that too much to ask?

You can reach Barney Brantingham at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays and in the Thursday print edition.

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