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News-Press‘s Special Expert Witness Not Special Enough

Starshine Roshell, Travis Armstrong Grace Stand in Last Trial Day for a Week


The first expert witness called by Santa Barbara News-Press attorney Matthew Clarke in the labor law case against the newspaper was extremely qualified, administrative law judge William Kocol determined Friday - just not qualified enough in the subject matter in which he was needed as an expert.

Daniel Sullivan, former deputy police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who now works as a private contracting investigator, admitted that the banner hanging on an overpass for which six paper employees were fired was his first “banner on an overpass” case. While he was familiar with Caltrans regulations for highways, freeways and overpasses, and oversaw all aspects of policing in Los Angeles for many years, Kocol said that wasn’t enough. “We have a narrow issue,” he said. “I’m ruling that you have not qualified in this issue.”

The ruling came right before lunch, and News-Press lead counsel Barry Cappello and his team of attorneys tried once more to prove Sullivan was an expert, but to no avail.

The day started began with a conversation about an email thread which hadn’t been provided to News-Press attorneys by Ira Gottlieb, attorney for the Teamsters union, until late the previous evening. Gottlieb explained in the email, and again this morning that he had simply forgotten fired reporter Rob Kuznia had forwarded him the email in response to a subpoena from News-Press attorneys. The email, infamously known as the “peeps email,” has been left out of subpoenaed material multiple times by multiple former employees. “I can’t simply just turn my head to what’s occurred with this series of emails,” Cappello told Kocol. Cappello said he plans to raise the issue when he files a motion for sanctions, he told the court. “I can’t tell you how difficult it is to try a case when documents are being left out,” Cappello said.

Former News-Press and current Independent columnist Starshine Roshell was on the stand for just one question, before Kocol decided Cappello’s line of questioning was irrelevant. He began questioning Roshell about the Summer Solstice Parade during which Roshell walked in front of the Independent‘s float, alongside a barbeque with News-Press papers as “kindling” and blonde-haired Barbie dolls on the grill. Cappello said the instance was an example of Roshell’s openly hostile attitude toward the News-Press and toward McCaw.

News-Press Editorial page editor Travis Armstrong ended the day on the stand, as opposed to the front row bench from which he had been observing most of the trial. During a recap of Armstrong’s educational and work history, Cappello asked Armstrong what an editorial was. “They’re argumentative in a good sense where you’re trying to present your opinion.” Armstrong also writes a column, he said, which contains his personal opinion. Armstrong testified that he, along with co-publishers Wendy McCaw and Arthur von Weisenberger compose the paper’s editorial board.

The main focus of his testimony Friday revolved around what has become known as the “Rob Lowe incident.” Before it even began, Gee tried to put an end to the line of questioning - “This sounds like it’s going to be pretty interesting, but I think it’s irrelevant,” he said - but the judge allowed at least some of it. During his examination, Cappello attempted to prove that at the News-Press, as at all newspapers, he said, the publisher has the prerogative to do what he or she wants, and that it wasn’t a breach of journalistic integrity. That prerogative includes, in this case, McCaw reprimanding a reporter and editors for printing the address of Lowe, a celebrity actor, and enacting a policy to not print any addresses in the future without running it by a publisher first. “Mrs. McCaw had the absolute right to do what she did,” Cappello said. In her letters of reprimand, McCaw said the inclusion of the address, which was as part of a Montecito Planning Commission meeting about a house Lowe was building, were “unnecessary details.”

The hearing will continue September 24 at 9 a.m. at the Santa Barbara Bankruptcy Court.

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