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Court Hears Jerry Roberts Case

News-Press Litigation Still Wending Through Legal System


Litigation Goes On: In case you’re wondering, litigation surrounding the Santa Barbara News-Press and owner Wendy McCaw is still wending through the courts.

On Wednesday, the California 2nd District Court in Ventura heard McCaw’s appeal of an arbitrator’s award of attorney’s fees to former News-Press editor Jerry Roberts, now amounting to about $900,000, including interest.

“We feel pretty good about the way the hearing went,” said appeals specialist Herb Fox, representing Roberts.

The court has up to 90 days to make a ruling. Any appeal from that would go to the California Supreme Court, which accepts relatively few cases.

In her appeal, McCaw contended that the arbitrator who ruled on dueling claims by the owner and her former editor filed her decision after the deadline, thereby invalidating it.

The ugly battle goes back to July 6, 2006, when Roberts resigned on grounds that McCaw intolerably interfered with the news. Several other editors and this writer resigned then same day. After Roberts then spoke out at a public meeting, McCaw filed a $25 million breach of contract action, claiming that Roberts was to blame for the paper’s sagging public image following the turmoil.

Roberts blasted the arbitration action by the wealthy McCaw as “nothing more than an attempt to silence me and to threaten my family’s financial future in retaliation for speaking out about ethics at the paper.” McCaw’s legal campaign was estimated at $2.4 million.

The arbitrator, Deborah Rothman, declined to award damages to either party. At the time, then-News-Press attorney Barry Cappello slammed the award of legal fees to Roberts as a “miscarriage of justice” and vowed to reverse it.

Rothman said McCaw, represented by Cappello, “fought each and every issue with equal ferocity, frequently proceeding in a scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners, go-for-broke, leave-no-stone-unturned campaign to punish Roberts for [the newspaper’s] public drubbing.

“McCaw is capable of great vindictiveness and appears to relish the opportunity to wield her considerable wealth and power in furtherance of what she believes to be righteous causes,” Rothman wrote. Commented Roberts at the time of the February 2010 ruling, “The award is a decisive victory for ethical journalism.”

In a separate case, the National Labor Relations Board ruled last summer that McCaw illegally fired eight reporters for union activities and must offer them rehiring and back pay. They are Melinda Burns, John Zant, Dawn Hobbs, Anna Davison, Melissa Evans, Rob Kuznia, and Barney McManigal. McCaw is appealing to a Washington, D.C., federal court. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

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