Arbitrator Tosses Wendy McCaw’s Lawsuit Against ‘Santa Barbara News-Press’ Ex-Editor, Orders Big Legal Fees Paid

By: The Associated Press

An arbitrator has rejected the Santa Barbara News-Press’ $25 million claim against its former editor and ordered the newspaper’s owner to pay more than $900,000 in fees stemming from their dispute.

Arbitrator Deborah Rothman said Ampersand Publishing, parent company of the News-Press, believed it “lost prestige and credibility in the Santa Barbara community” from comments former editor Jerry Roberts made, and it went after the journalist in a “scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners, go-for-broke fashion.” She said the company spent about $2.4 million litigating the claim against Roberts.

Rothman decided that Ampersand should pay nearly $750,000 in legal fees Roberts incurred and about $167,000 in arbitration fees and expenses. Her 68-page decision was made available Friday; a judge will have to decide whether to confirm or vacate the judgment.

A phone message left for Ampersand’s attorney, Barry Cappello, was not immediately returned.

Roberts quit his job at the News-Press in 2006 amid complaints that the newspaper’s publisher, Wendy McCaw, was interfering with editorial content. Dozens of other staffers either quit or were fired thereafter.

Ampersand filed a $25 million claim against Roberts, saying he violated his contract through defamation by speaking about the newspaper after he left, and he breached his fiduciary duty and a confidentiality agreement. Roberts filed a counterclaim, but Rothman dismissed it. Both sides agreed to binding arbitration.

Roberts said he felt vindicated by the arbitrator’s decision and said he was grateful to those who supported him through the lengthy legal battle.

“The award is a decisive victory for ethical journalism,” Roberts said in a statement. “Ethics, not money, was always the issue for me.”

A labor dispute erupted at the newspaper following the departure of Roberts and others. Eight reporters filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming they were wrongfully terminated for union activity and other reasons.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld a ruling by a federal judge that refused to immediately rehire those workers who were let go.

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