Thursday, August 23, 2007

NLRB Hearing Round 2, Cha-Ching!

Yes, it's official. Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw now employs more lawyers than news reporters. Not since the Michael Jackson trial have I seen a larger team of defense attorneys on a case than are representing the News-Press as it defends itself against various charges of unfair labor practices in a hearing which began last week and resumes this morning at 9 am.

Most other lawyers in town will tell you that Barry Cappello, McCaw's man on the law, is always a formidable opponent. When Barry appears on a case the most often heard expression is "watch your wallet." And that applies whether he's representing you or opposing you. He doesn't work cheap and he usually gets results.

McCaw may have a lot of problems but "watching her wallet" has never been one of them.

Last Wednesday, just prior to the start of the hearing's morning session at the Bankruptcy Court building, I ran into Barry in the restroom, otherwise known as the attorney's private conference room. I made some small talk about the long hours of the hearing and Barry reminded me that was only the tip of the iceberg. He mentioned that after the conclusion of the previous day's session at 4:30 in the afternoon he had spent until 11:30 that night getting ready for the next day.

Besides Barry himself there are three other attorneys seated on the defense side in the courtroom with him; two young associates from his firm, Matthew Clarke and Dugan Kelley, and Michael Zinser, a high powered labor lawyer for management who has been brought in from Nashville, Tennessee to advise Cappello on the ins and outs of the oftentimes Byzantine niceties of labor relations law. In addition to their lawyers the defense also has a myriad number of legal assistants, go-fers and all around flunkies at their disposal.

The DA doesn't send that big of a team to prosecute a capital murder case. I doubt they had that big of a team to prosecute Michael Jackson.

On the other side of the table the General Counsel of the NLRB, who is prosecuting the case, is represented by Steve Wyllie and Brian Gee. They're not colorful but they are clearly competent. The usually sartorially resplendent Ira Gottlieb, who represents the Union in the hearing, has been literally reduced to being just another suit wardrobe wise. I guess in labor relations matters conservative gets you further than flamboyant.

I wouldn't say that Cappello, who favors impeccably tailored Italian suits, has come off as being flamboyant but he does have a way of dominating the room and never lets one forget that his tastes run to the expensive. For example when questioning Scott Steepleton, the Head Fred of McCaw's newsroom, he asked Steepleton to describe the Union t-shirts and buttons some of the reporters wore to work. Steepleton seemed to struggle to remember what they looked like other than that they were black and had the Union "horse head symbol” on them. Cappello looked a little puzzled stating; "The only horse head symbol I'm familiar with is the one for Ferrari." Funny, when I think of cars that are symbolized by horses I usually think Mustang.

The security to get into the Bankruptcy Court building on State Street, which incidentally is owned by McCaw and is on a long-term lease to the Government Services Administration, is tighter than that at the Jackson trial. That's not just for this hearing, it's been that way always, at least since 9/11, but you have to present photo ID, go through a metal detector, have briefcases and purses run through an x-ray machine and take off your shoes. At the Jackson trial you only had to pass though the metal detector and perhaps have the deputy give you the once over with the magic wand.

Additionally, because all cameras are banned from the building, that means that most cell phones, which these days typically have picture taking capabilities, have to be left in your car. Fortunately for me, I don’t run a photo blog.

The tight security hasn't kept the spectators away. I've tried murder cases where fewer people showed up to watch. Many citizens who are keenly interested in the outcome of the case dropped in to observe during the first week, including former NBC and ABC news correspondent Sander Vanocur, former Washington Post writer and Reagan biographer Lou Cannon and wife Mary and former Goleta Valley Voice owner of about 10 years back, Dave Novis.

Now, if I could only figure out how to get the popcorn concession for the hearing.

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Yesterday I posted a link to Lou Cannon's assessment of the NLRB hearing thus far. Not everyone in the blogosphere agrees. Let me refer you to The Averageman for a dissenting opinion.

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There's a free jazz concert in the Sunken Gardens of the Courthouse tonight (Thursday) to benefit the Firefighters Alliance. 5pm to 8pm. If you’ve made other plans, you might want to consider moving them to the Sunken Gardens.

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