Attorney Barry Cappello-representing the Santa Barbara News-Press and its owner Wendy P. McCaw-is asking Judge William Kocol to impose sanctions against the Teamsters Union and their attorneys for failing to provide documents they had requested as part of the pre-trial discovery process.
The document under contention during the News-Press-National Labor Relations Board hearing this morning was the “Rock-the-House” e-mail written by former News-Press reporter and union activist Tom Schultz last August in which Schultz celebrated a march by union supporters in the newsroom to then-acting publisher Travis Armstrong. The marchers delivered Armstrong a list of demands and then marched back. Many were subsequently issues letters of reprimand and notified they would be suspended. (None of those suspensions were ever enforced, however, but the letters of reprimand constitute one of the many allegations of federal labor law violations filed against the News-Press by the NLRB.)
The NLRB hearing on those allegations is now taking place at the federal Bankruptcy Court, a building that’s owned by McCaw. Cappello contends the celebratory chest thumping of Schultz’s e-mail is considerably at odds with his courtroom testimony, in which described the event as a well-mannered form of collective action. Cappello ultimately did receive a copy of the e-mail from former News-Press writer Al Bonowitz, whom the News-Press had subpoenaed. Cappello was steamed because neither the Teamsters nor attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board-who are now prosecuting the News-Press for nearly 20 violations of federal labor law-had provided the requested document.
Cappello termed the e-mail “a critical piece of evidence,” and said it was one of at least six instances in which the union and the federal attorneys had failed to provide documents. Ira Gottleib, attorney for the Teamsters said that union organizer Marty Keegan had innocently deleted the document months before any subpoena had been issued, and that the Teamsters had made a “good faith effort” to produce all the documents Cappello requested. Cappello chastised the government attorneys-Brian Gee and Steven Wyllie-for not knowing about the document and not being thorough enough in the preparations. Cappello recalled that back in the days when he was still a prosecutor that he would have been far more thorough and detailed. Kocol agreed that the failure to produce documents is a serious concern, but said Cappello had not demonstrated that Keegan had deleted the e-mail either in anticipation of the subpoena or after having received the subpoena. Failing that, he said, there was no basis for sanctions.
Furthermore, the judge disagreed with the News-Press‘s attorney over the importance of the evidence, stating, “It is not a critical piece of evidence, Mr. Cappello.” The judge did agree, however, to have Keegan placed under oath on the witness stand and have him answer questions about the document.
In the first News-Press-NLRB hearing held this January-over whether the Teamsters’ election should be recognized as valid-News-Press editors Scott Steepleton and Travis Armstrong testified how they were intimidated by the loud and boisterous manner of the newsroom employees. In that trial, Steepleton pantomimed for the judge the foot-stomping he said the protestors engaged in. Armstrong likened them to “storm troopers.” The judge in that case, William Schmidt, found their testimony singularly lacking in credibility and wrote so stingingly in his ultimate recommendation that the election results-33-to-6 in favor of the Teamsters-be certified. The News-Press appealed Schmidt’s recommendation, and two weeks ago, a three-member panel of the NLRB upheld Schmidt’s ruling. The “Rock the House” e-mail was not available during the first hearing, and had it been so, who knows what impact it might have had on the judge’s thinking.