Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dawn's Testimony Makes For All Day Affair

Sitting in the audience and watching a trial from start to finish is a lot like standing on the corner of State and Alamar all day long waiting for an accident to happen. But for the occasional collision or close call, it's not very exciting.

Yesterday at the hearing it was Dawn all day long, as in News-Press attorney Barry Cappello took virtually the whole day to cross-examine fired reporter and vocal union supporter Dawn Hobbs. And no, there weren't any collisions and the close calls were few and far between.

Dawn took the stand shortly after 9 am and Cappello didn't complete his cross-examination of her until 3:45 pm. After some questions on redirect from NLRB attorney Steve Willey, Union attorney Ira Gottlieb and some re-cross from Cappello, it wasn't until 4:20 pm that Hobbs was finally excused as a witness after completing her testimony.

Hobbs of course, covered the Michael Jackson trial for the News-Press and had plenty of opportunity to watch skilled cross-examiners like Jackson defense attorney Tom Mesereau and Santa Barbara deputy D.A. Ron Zonen operate. She probably never dreamed that it would be such good preparation for a day like yesterday.

Cappello, who certainly qualifies in my book as a skilled cross-examiner, had his hands full. He certainly appeared to me as if he was trying to keep Hobbs on a short leash cutting her off when she tried to explain answers to his questions.

Cappello was so careful and took so much time in phrasing some of his questions, on at least one occasion administrative law judge William G. Kocol, who is presiding over the hearing and will decide the case, asked Cappello to pick up the pace.

Cappello was never able to pull off a true "gotcha" moment against Hobbs nor was Hobbs able to get off an answer that was devastating. But there were a whole lot of stand-offs.

Hobbs was asked about the circumstances surrounding the killing of a news brief she wrote on the sentencing of editorial page editor Travis Armstrong for drunk driving.

She described how on the day the story was to run, she went to Armstrong's office to get a comment from him for the article. Armstrong raised the question of whether the story should run at all in the paper and started yelling at her accusing her and the newsroom staff of "targeting" him. Hobbs left Armstrong's office.

Because she was troubled by his reaction to her attempt to get a comment she then went to the cubicle of assistant managing editor Don Murphy and told him what happened. Later, Murphy came by her desk and said "The story's not running." Hobbs replied, "What do you mean?" "It's not running" Murphy repeated. When Hobbs asked why and wanted to know what the reason was Murphy told her to ask executive editor Jerry Roberts.

When Roberts returned to the office late that day from a conference Hobbs sought him out for an explanation. "They killed it" Roberts told her. Hobbs testified that she assumed the "they" Roberts was referring to were the only two people at the paper above him, co-publishers Wendy McCaw and Arthur von Wiesenberger. According to Hobbs, it was the only time in her nearly nine years at the paper that one of her stories had been killed.

For the complete run down on yesterday's hearings check out Eric Lindberg's Daily Sound article, complete with a courtroom sketch. (Kind of looks like a cartoon out of the New Yorker, don't you think?)

The witnesses expected to be called today when the hearing resumes this morning at 9 am at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court building are Starshine Roshell, Melissa Evans and Karna Hughes.

* * *

Why lawyers send out such large bills. During cross-examination Cappello was trying to introduce into evidence a chart which purported to show a percentage decline in Hobbs' performance evaluations over a specific period of time. He nearly succeeded until Union attorney Gottlieb pointed out the calculations appeared to be incorrect. When judge Kocol took a second look he noticed the same thing. NLRB attorney Wyllie weighed in as well on the side of mathematical error. At that point Cappello good naturedly pointed out that he hadn't done the math but rather it was his associate Matthew Clarke who had performed the calculations. The exhibit was withdrawn.

No word on whether Clarke will be required to take a remedial math class.

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