Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue


Roberts Beats McCaw, $900,000 – $0

More intrigue and drama in the publishing world! Another lawsuit involving a former editor vs his employer-publisher…only this time the publisher bought the suit AND lost.

More on this story by Nick Welsh of the Santa Barbara Independent:

Jerry Roberts

Ampersand Publishing, the parent company of the Santa Barbara News-Press, was ordered to pay roughly $915,000 in legal fees and arbitration costs to former News-Press editor and publisher Jerry Roberts in the wake of Roberts’ protracted contract dispute with that paper after his much publicized resignation in July 2006. Roberts quit — along with five other editors — during stormy and prolonged controversy over what they termed a breach of journalistic ethics by Ampersand owner Wendy McCaw.

Though this order was part of an arbitrated settlement that concluded in October 2009, the details were just released for the first time Friday, February 5 when attorneys for McCaw filed legal papers in Santa Barbara Superior Court to have the arbitrated ruling vacated.

From a strictly technical perspective, the ruling was a draw. The arbitrator, Deborah Rothman, rejected McCaw’s claims that Roberts had breached his contract by divulging confidential information about the management of the News-Press or that he has made defamatory remarks about McCaw and the paper. But she also rejected Roberts’ counter-claims that McCaw had effectively forced him to quit by making working conditions so impossible he had no other choice. Likewise, Rothman rejected Roberts’ contention that McCaw was legally responsible for a libelous blog authored by McCaw’s fiancé — and News-Press co-publisher — Arthur Von Wiesenberger.

Even so, the arbitrator declared Roberts the prevailing party. As such, Roberts is entitled to recoup many of legal costs from McCaw that he expended defending himself from her. To that end, Rothman ordered McCaw to pay Roberts $629,643.63 in legal fees. Roberts had expended $750,000 in attorneys’ bills. The arbitrator also ordered McCaw to pay Roberts $167,516 in arbitration costs.

Despite rejecting arguments for both sides, Rothman provided a detailed accounting of why she determined Roberts was the prevailing party. Ampersand’s stated litigation objective, Rothman said, was “to pin the blame on Roberts’ media statements for its lost prestige and credibility in the Santa Barbara community. . . Further, Ampersand pursued its objectives in this proceeding in a scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners, go-for-broke fashion. . . to punish Roberts for Ampersand’s public drubbing.” In this objective, Rothman, concluded, McCaw had failed utterly to demonstrate Roberts had violated the terms of his confidentiality agreement with the News-Press or that he had defamed her in any way. She did acknowledge, however, that Roberts had spoken disparagingly of McCaw and the News-Press. “What Ampersand probably wishes Roberts had signed is a non-disparagement agreement. Ampersand cannot retroactively prevent Roberts from disparaging Mrs. McCaw or the News-Press.”

Rothman noted that it was McCaw, not Roberts, who initiated the legal dispute which, under the terms of Roberts’ contract with Ampersand, had to be resolved through mandatory arbitration. McCaw initially filed a $500,000 action against Roberts, but when he responded with a counter-claim, Rothman noted McCaw upped the ante by increasing her complaint against Roberts from $500,000 to $25 million. “I infer from the evidence before me that Mrs. 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 a righteous cause,” Rothman declared in her ruling.


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