Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Burns and Todd Complete Their Testimony

Melinda Burns finally completed her testimony in the NLRB hearing Tuesday afternoon. What I found most interesting were the questions that the judge asked of her after the attorneys had completed their rounds of questioning.

Judge William G. Kocol has impressed me with his tremendous command of the evidence that he has heard thus far in the case. That's why I thought the questions he asked of Burns might offer some clues as to the issues upon which he thinks the case might turn.

"Help me understand," was the preface to his question. The judge wanted to know why Burns felt that the journalistic integrity of the paper was compromised by the Lowe and Armstrong incidents.

Burns explained the custom of the paper in reporting the site of developments that were the subject of Planning Commission hearings and that it was favoritism as far as she was concerned to make an exception for a "Hollywood actor." As for Armstrong, whom she described as one of owner Wendy McCaw's "business associates," she felt he had become enough of a public figure as the paper's editorial page editor that his sentencing for drunk driving was a matter of public interest.

Judge Kocol then asked: "Why is it important to you as an employee that journalistic integrity be respected?" "I don't want to be employed by a vanity press" Burns answered. "I want to be able to report as accurately as I can and as truthfully as I can." Her answers made for a strong finish to her testimony.

She was followed on the stand by Michael Todd, the former business editor of the paper. For some reason the lanky Todd looked a little out of place in his dark blue suit. Nevertheless he came across as a very sharp witness.

He explained that despite being the business editor he was Burns' direct supervisor. In describing how they worked together on the in-depth stories she was assigned he explained: "I'm a little right of center, she's a little left of center. Together we put together some bullet-proof stories."

Todd then went on to give the account of the chronology of the reprimands that were personally issued by McCaw over the Rob Lowe address incident. Todd testified how he wrote a rebuttal to his reprimand, personally delivered it to human resources director Yolanda Apodaca and three hours later was suspended indefinitely for an incident that occurred six weeks earlier with photographer Ana Fuentes.

That incident could call into question the credibility of Todd who was in all other respects solid in his testimony. As Todd explained, when asked on cross-examination by Cappello, he had seen Fuentes on the street and later said "I would have swerved into you but you were with two other people." The next day when Fuentes asked him if he still wanted to hit her Todd replied, "a bullet would have been cheaper."

Todd described this as "black humor" and was certainly not evasive nor did he make excuses for his behavior. Cappello would have torn up a lesser witness but Todd's straightforwardness in that and all other aspects of his testimony left Cappello with no opportunity to belabor the point. Perhaps sensing there wasn't much he could do with him, Cappello completed his cross examination.

The hearing adjourned at around 4:30 pm and will continue tomorrow morning at the Bankruptcy Court building in downtown Santa Barbara.

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