It’s not exactly a case of irresistible force colliding with unmovable object, but, in Santa Barbara legal circles, it’s the next best thing.
Barry Cappello, arguably Santa Barbara’s foremost litigator, is suing his former client, Wendy P. McCaw, owner and publisher of the embattled Santa Barbara News-Press, for failing to pay $411,000 in legal bills related to the high-profile work Cappello did in the wake of the now legendary News-Press meltdown of 2006. In addition, Cappello sued a number of legal entities associated with McCaw for work that appears separate and distinct from the News-Press controversy. In legal papers filed May 29, Cappello assessed the value of those bills at $123,646. Cappello also demanded damages of $200,000 from accountant Norman Colavincenzo, who Cappello accused of approving legal bills on behalf of McCaw when in fact, Cappello charged, he had not done so.
While McCaw boasts a laundry list of former attorneys, Cappello is by far the most prominent, and he was involved in the most intense and prolonged legal confrontations related to the 2006 meltdown, when former editor Jerry Roberts, iconic columnist Barney Brantingham, and many others walked away from their jobs due to McCaw’s unethical intrusions into the newsroom. In those days, Cappello was seen by McCaw’s critics as the publisher’s legal enforcer and her alter ego, becoming a subject of intense controversy in his own right.
Cappello was involved in the case against Roberts — who eventually prevailed and is now owed nearly $1 million in legal bills himself — and also the attorney of record when federal prosecutors tried McCaw for violating labor laws by firing employees who unionized; those charges, which lower courts judged to be true, are still awaiting a final decision by the National Labor Relations Board. So while he proved aggressive, relentless, and, at times, bruising in the courtroom, most of the key decisions ultimately went against him and his client.
Given those outcomes, many legal observers predicted that a showdown between McCaw and Cappello was inevitable. As Cappello’s former law partner, Tony Romasanta, quipped during the height of the controversy, “People say there’s only two things in life that you can be sure of: death and taxes. Well, you can add a third: Barry Cappello will get paid.”