Thursday, September 27, 2007

Now The Waiting Game Begins

Although I'm certainly glad that the News-Press/NLRB hearing has finally concluded it really should have lasted at least one more day.

After all, today is the one year anniversary of the paper's newsroom employees voting 33 to 6 in favor of joining the Teamster's Union, so ending the hearing today would have been more fitting.

Of course, a decision from administrative law judge William Kocol, who presided over the case, is not expected for months. The parties have five weeks to submit their closing briefs which will summarize the evidence and argue the law. They can even ask for an extension of that deadline. "Reply briefs" in which the parties respond to the opposing parties arguments made in the closing briefs are due two weeks after that, which puts us in the middle of November.

I'm told that it's not uncommon for a judge to take anywhere from two to four months to issue a written decision. So don't expect a decision from the judge any earlier than January and maybe as late as March of 2008.

Either party can appeal the judge's decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington D.C. And once they decide the case, that decision could be appealed to a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. So we could be looking at the second anniversary of the 33 to 6 union vote before this thing is settled.

In the meantime, contract negotiations between the paper and the union will begin soon. The parties are trying to set up dates in November to begin bargaining over wages, hours and working conditions.

Of course with the union's main issue being journalism ethics and the News-Press being on record as saying that ethics is not a "working condition" that is subject to collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act, I wouldn't be too optimistic about those bargaining talks going anywhere fast.

I had considered writing a post today where I analyzed the evidence and came to a conclusion as to how the case should be resolved on each of the major charges.

But then I figured I ought to take a little time to review all of my notes and study the evidence carefully. After all, Judge Kocal may take as long as six months to come up with a decision and he's a helluva lot smarter than I am. I ought to at least take the weekend to think it over. I'll have my answers for you early next week.

So how much is News-Press owner Wendy McCaw paying to defend this case? I did some asking around. One local attorney told me that he knew for a fact that several years ago, Barry Cappello, who represents the paper, was charging $500 an hour. So he's probably charging more than that now right? A former associate of Cappello, and there are plenty of them around, told me he figured Cappello was probably charging $750 an hour. When I asked Barry if that was true, he denied he was charging that much although he refused to say exactly what he was charging.

So, let's just guess that he's charging in the neighborhood of $600 an hour. Add to that the two other attorney's from his firm, whom I would guess are being charged out in the neighborhood of $400 an hour each. Then there's Michael Zinser, the labor law attorney hired by McCaw from Tennessee. Let's take a guess and say that he's charging $500 an hour.

That's $1900 an hour so far. The hearing was in session six and a half hours a day plus we know that everyone worked on the case after each day's session and into the evening to prepare for the next day so let's conservatively say they put in an additional four and a half hours a day outside of the hearing. That gives us 11 hours a day billed at $1900 an hour or $20,900 a day. Multiply that by 17 days of hearing and that comes out to $355,300 spent on the hearing alone.

Of course that doesn't count the time spent in preparation prior to the hearing or the time spent between now and October 31 when the closing brief is due.

At this point, it's getting into wild speculation about what Wendy's total legal bills might be, but as you can see, it's fast approaching half a million bucks. Just for this hearing.

No wonder the woman can't afford a bottle of hair conditioner.

I hope that Barry at least picked up the tab when he, the Bottled Water Boy and the Frump de Grump went to lunch yesterday.

So how much interest was there in seeing Wendy take the stand? Consider this, it was covered by the L.A. Times, the Associated Press, the Ventura County Star, and of course the Santa Barbara Independent as well as the Santa Barbara Daily Sound.

My post yesterday on Wendy's testimony was viewed by a record number of visitors. As far as I can tell, the News-Press ran the shortest article of any of the outlets I just mentioned and then buried the story on page A5 of yesterday's paper.

And Wendy wonders why readership is on the decline.

The Daily Sound ran another one of its "courtroom artist's drawings" on the front page yesterday and no, my 11 year old daughter is not the courtroom artist.

If anybody out there can come up with a good caption for the courtroom drawing, I'd sure like to hear it.