A superior court judge tacked on an additional $81,560.05 to the amount owed Jerry Roberts by Ampersand Publishing, the parent company of the Santa Barbara News-Press. That sum comprises attorney’s fees that accrued during Roberts’s defense against Ampersand’s appeal of a 2009 arbitration ruling. The decision brings Ampersand owner Wendy McCaw’s tab to nearly $1.1 million.
“It’s not like some huge victory for Jerry Roberts,” Ampersand’s attorney Matthew Clarke said, pointing out that even though his client was ordered to pay Roberts’s fees, he — like Ampersand — was not awarded any damages during the arbitration, the result of a lawsuit brought against Roberts in 2006 for breach of contract after he resigned his post as editor of the News-Press in public protest of publisher McCaw’s alleged interference with editorial decisions.
The real victory, however, was not in the courtroom. It was suggested in a press release that Roberts distributed to media, claiming that he “expects to have collected over $750,000 by the end of August, according to his attorney, Bruce Hogan.” Hogan told The Santa Barbara Independent that the majority of those proceeds would be the result of levies placed on Ampersand’s bank accounts and advertisers and that Roberts — who writes a column for this newspaper — had already received some money.
Judge Donna Geck, however, denied Roberts’s requests for levies on Ampersand property including 11 vehicles, two printing presses, two forklifts, and three drawings by artist Edward Borein. Roberts did not sufficiently identify the property — for instance he would need to provide VINs for the vehicles — or did not provide sufficient evidence that Ampersand still owns said property.
After the judge affirmed her ruling, Roberts’s lawyers had the opportunity to assess Ampersand’s assets and liabilities with a debtor’s exam of CFO Norman Colavincenzo. The questioning took place behind closed doors, but the lawyers went in front of Geck again after Colavincenzo failed to turn over requested financial documents.
“The documents sought are burdensome, harassing, not necessary, and invade my clients’ rights,” said Clarke, who filed a motion for a protective order that would relieve Ampersand from having to disclose the documents. Geck will issue a ruling on the motion on August 22 and meanwhile told Colavincenzo that he must come to court with the documents in case she rules against Ampersand.
Should Roberts prevail, he and his lawyers will get a rare peek under the hood of a publication whose circulation numbers have plunged from about 45,000 to roughly 22,000 since Wendy McCaw bought it in 2000. The financial state of the News-Press is a lingering question mark, especially with at least some of its liquidity now flowing to Jerry Roberts and not its accounts payable.
The original version of this story was updated on August 10, 2012, to correct the amount of additional money Judge Geck ordered Ampersand to pay Roberts in her most recent ruling.