Steepleton Wrote NLRB Staff Report, Says Ex-Editor

Termination Motivation, Performance Reviews Debated at News-Press Trial

Testimony of former associate city editor Bob Guiliano today – on day four of the federal labor law case against the Santa Barbara News-Press – seemed to conflict with statements made by associate editor Scott Steepleton last week. Steepleton had he said he didn’t know who wrote a News-Press article about a January National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) hearing on the paper’s union vote. The article’s byline was published as “News-Press Staff Report.”

A fidgety and nervous Guiliano testified that it was, in fact, Steepleton who wrote the published article after reporter Leana Orsua backed out because she was overwhelmed. According to Guiliano’s testimony, when he talked to Orsua at about 5:30 p.m. that day, Orsua told Guiliano she couldn’t write the story. “How can I report that my boss was lying on the stand?” Guiliano recalled Orsua as saying. In Guiliano’s recollection, Orsua didn’t think Steepleton’s portrayal of reporters stomping their feet while marching around the office was an accurate portrayal of the events of that day. So Guiliano found Steepleton, his boss, in the office of human resources director Yolanda Apodaca. “He was upset and said he’d take care of it,” Guiliano recalled of Steepleton’s reaction.

Guiliano called Orsua back and asked her to give him the highlights of the day’s events – just enough to piece together a 10- or 12-inch story. She agreed, but Steepleton then told Guilliano that the paper couldn’t have Orsua write the story because “then we can’t discipline her for not doing the assignment.” Guiliano then told the courtroom that Steepleton wrote the article.

Thursday’s trial goings-on began with filmmaker Sam Tyler appearing in front of Judge William Kocol to defend himself against a subpoena from News-Press lead attorney Barry Cappello, who is seeking video footage Tyler compiled for a documentary on the newspaper. Kocol said the subpoena appeared to be “more in the nature of fishing.” Kocol told Cappello that if there was certain footage that could help make his case, he could ask again later. For the time being, the subpoena was revoked. Cappello argued that Tyler was a Michael Moore-type filmmaker, whose position is “less than objective,” but the judge ruled that argument was “neither here nor there.” Cappello said that the footage was important because those interviewed – including most of the departed journalists -might have talked openly with someone who is sympathetic to their views. But the judge disagreed, saying “The interest Mr. Tyler has in going forward with this project outweighs any interest you may have in this information.”

After Tyler stepped away, NLRB attorney Steve Wyllie called Apodaca to the stand. Much of Wyllie’s questioning centered around performance evaluations, and after asking who was responsible for collecting and assembling the documents for the subpoena, it became clear that Wyllie was suggesting that certain performance evaluations had been left out, eventually listing off the names of 19 people whose evaluations weren’t provided. News-Press counsel Dugan Kelley sent his paralegals to compare the government’s stack with Ampersand’s stack. He assured the government and judge that it was merely a mistake if any had been left out and that they’d be happy to provide any lacking evaluations.

During Kelley’s cross-examining of Apodaca, it came to light that a rank of three on a one-to-five scale for performance evaluations was the threshold to receive a bonus, and employees were only eligible after six months of working at the paper. Kelley, trying to prove that those who wanted to join the Teamsters Union were not treated any differently, led Apodaca through a list of 11 names of employees who received their bonus in spite of being thought to be pro-union.

Apodaca was followed by Steepleton, whose testimony had taken up much of the first three days of the hearing. He was back on the stand Thursday, albeit for a much briefer period of time. This time Steepleton was called to explain the story audit process, which provides a snapshot, as he put it, into the life of a story in the editing system. With such a system, those at the News-Press can look and see who edited or changed any elements of a story as it makes it way through from first draft to published piece. The system is purged twice a month, so when Steepleton went back to retrieve some of the stories written that had been subpoenaed, he wasn’t able to access them.

After Steepleton came Guiliano, who finished up the morning session on the stand, and was on the stand the entire afternoon. Guiliano was grilled aggressively by Cappello, who attempted to show the court that Guiliano knew his termination was performance-related. Cappello also tried to prove that soon after his termination, Guiliano was approached by somebody – whether a member of the Teamsters or News-Press staff member – and told that “under the National Labor Relations Act we can get your job back.” Guiliano said he was fired because he backed pro-union employees, and that up until the point of his termination, was told by Steepleton, his superior, that he was doing a good job. But Cappello offered several examples – including not reprimanding reporters for plagiarism or bias – as reasons why Guilano’s termination was work-related.

Former reporter Tom Schultz, one of the fired eight, was waiting in the wings most of the day Thursday, but wasn’t called. It’s unclear who will be called to testify after Guiliano, who will be on the stand when the hearing continues Friday morning at 9 a.m.


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