Paul Wellman

No Surprise: This week’s decision by a judge who refused to immediately order fired Santa Barbara News-Press reporters back to work was “just a speed bump” in the union battle, according to one journalist.

“This ruling comes as no surprise,” said Dawn Hobbs, a News-Press reporter who was fired in February, 2007.

Judges tend to be reluctant to issue injunctions under these circumstances, but some found it disconcerting that a judge would find that an employer’s rights outweighed those of workers after another court found the same employer to have broken the law by illegally firing workers for protected union activity. Nor was it clear why Federal Judge Stephen Wilson gave First Amendment refuge to owner Wendy McCaw. Judge Wilson apparently bought the paper’s argument that the union was trying to limit the paper’s “editorial discretion” rather than just exercising its legal right to a fair contract.

“Our request for temporary reinstatement was denied, but we still won the trial,” Hobbs said, referring to a Dec. 26, 2007 ruling by administrative law judge William G. Kocol that eight reporters had been wrongfully terminated and ordered that they be reinstated with back pay. “This doesn’t dampen our spirits in the slightest.

“We remain confident that the appeal the News-Press now has pending on the ruling from December (2007) — which was against the company on 15 unfair labor practice charges, including our illegal terminations — will be resolved in our favor,” said Hobbs, who covered the crime and courts beats for nearly nine years before she was terminated. “Our legal departments in Washington, D.C., and Burbank are now reviewing this judge’s decision to decide our next course of action.”

Judge Wilson ruled that reinstating the reporters would infringe on the First Amendment rights of the News-Press to protect itself against union efforts. His decision affects only the injunction request filed in March by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It does not overturn Judge Kocol’s ruling that the News-Press violated federal labor laws in firing the eight reporters. That decision was immediately appealed by the News-Press and a decision is pending.

Ira Gottlieb, attorney for the Teamsters Union representing the newsroom employees, said “We respectfully believe (the case) was incorrectly decided.”

Comments about Judge Wilson from lawyers in The Robing Room website are less than complementary: Some of the milder examples: “Wilson continues to be completely biased against and very unfair toward plaintiffs and their counsel in civil rights cases — particularly employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wage-and-hour cases.”

“Petty and nasty. Has a reputation for being a misogynist and a bigot. Tries to intimidate and demean lawyers. Intelligent. However, only uses it to support his outcome-driven opinions and to clean the record to frustrate appeals.”

“Very unfair toward plaintiff’s in civil rights cases.”


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