Attorney for Jerry Roberts Not Satisfied With ‘Porn Computer’ Update

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By: Joe Strupp

Several weeks after reporting that child pornography had been found on a computer used by former editor Jerry Roberts, the Santa-Barbara News-Press on Sunday posted an editor’s note that included statements from Roberts’ attorney correcting one element of the story, but defending the majority of the original report.

But Attorney Andrine Smith, who represents Roberts, criticized the clarification as “little more than a defense to the original defamatory story.” In a statement to E&P, Smith added that the editor’s note “contains no expression of regret, much less an apololgy, for pain the original story has caused Mr. Roberts and his family. Mr. Roberts continues to evaluate possible litigation against the News?Press and its publishers.”

The News-Press editor’s note, posted online Sunday, referred to an April 22 story in which the paper “reported that 15,000 images of child and adult pornography were discovered after the departure of a number of editors in June 2006, including Jerry Roberts, and that the News-Press computer in question had been used by him during his employment.”

The story drew complaints from Roberts, who denied any link to the images and threatened legal action. Smith said she sent a letter demanding a retraction a day after the story ran. Roberts is one of several editors who resigned from the paper in July 2006.

On Sunday, the paper defended the majority of the story, stating “the article further reported that neither the News-Press nor the authorities had been able to determine when the images were put onto the computer or by whom.

“Following publication of the article, we received a letter from Mr. Roberts’ attorney expressing concern that the article could be read to accuse Mr. Roberts of being responsible for the downloading of child pornography images,” the note continued. “The April 22 article contained no such accusation and, to the contrary, the article eschewed knowledge of the identity of the perpetrator. Rather the article reported statements that persons in addition to Mr. Roberts may at various times have had access to the computer and that the News-Press would continue its efforts to determine the source of this child pornography.”

But the newspaper noted an inaccuracy in the original story, which had reported that “when police asked to interview (Mr. Roberts) about the matter, Roberts, through his criminal defense attorney, refused.” The paper revealed that, when police asked to interview Roberts, he referred them to his attorney who provided a statement that said Roberts had no knowledge about the pornography.

Roberts’ attorney, who was not identified in the note, also wrote to the paper claiming that it had misstated a declaration by a former News-Press systems analyst, Raul Gil, related to the computer in question. “The article reported that Mr. Gil ‘signed a declaration in January stating that the computer drive used by Mr. Roberts may have been used by former employees years ago. …’,” the note added. “Mr. Gil’s declaration dated January 29, 2007, stated that ‘by recollection, notes and memory (Mr. Gil) concluded that the desktop computer had been previously used by at least two other editors at the News-Press and possibly an ex-business editor.'”

Roberts could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. The clarification is the latest in a string of events at the paper that occurred after the initial resignations, including the formation of a newsroom union and the filing of several unfair labor complaints against the paper.

In a related move, Santa Barbara resident and former Reagan biographer Lou Cannon wrote a critical piece for the Los Angeles Times on the News-Press, which has seen at least 40 newsroom employees leave since last summer as part of an intense labor battle over alleged newsroom meddling by owner Wendy McCaw. Cannon’s piece in Sunday’s edition of the Times, stated “… the Santa Barbara News-Press under different owners provided a forum for diverse points of view and earned the community’s trust. That trust is now gone, and with it one of the most vital aspects of life in Santa Barbara. It’s a sad story.”

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