Thursday, September 13, 2007

Use A Zip Tie, Lose Your Job?

Three witnesses took their turns testifying at the News-Press/NLRB hearing on Wednesday. Fired reporter Melissa Evans completed her testimony, Karna Hughes, who is still with the paper as a writer for the Life section, was able to get on and off the stand, and union organizer Marty Keegan began his testimony.

During his cross-examination of Evans, News-Press attorney Matthew Clarke, an associate of Barry Cappello, tested the patience of pretty much everyone in the courtroom with his questions to Evans about whether the signs and banners that were displayed during the freeway overpass demonstration, that got her and five other reporters fired back in February, were attached to the chain link fence on the Anapamu Street footbridge or were merely held in place by hand.

Earlier in the week, Dawn Hobbs testified that out of concern that the demonstration be completely legal, she checked with the Highway Patrol to see what the law was about displaying signs on the freeway. She was told as long as the signs were held by hand they would be okay. If they were attached or affixed to the fence, it would be a violation of the Santa Barbara Municipal Code.

So Clarke spent a lot of time showing Evans photos of the demonstration and probing her recollection that the signs were indeed held by hand and not affixed. On what seemed like the umpteenth time he asked that question or some variation of it he was met with a renewed objection from the Union and NLRB attorneys that the question was irrelevant prompting the judge to ask, "Remind me why we are litigating this issue?"

Clarke responded that under News-Press policy, if any employee was found to have violated the law it would be grounds for dismissal, implying that would be the case regardless of the offender's union sympathies.

A seemingly skeptical Judge Kocol then asked, "I assume you will have someone here who will testify under oath that this is the type of activity that would normally warrant discharge at the News-Press?"

Apparently, willing to say whatever it would take to get the objection overruled, Clarke assured the judge that he would and was allowed to continue the line of questioning.

Now, let me get this straight. Editorial page editor Travis Armstrong can be convicted of driving under the influence for traveling the wrong way down a one way street and still keep his job, but if you violate the municipal code by attaching a sign to a chain link fence with some zip ties, you're shown the door? Thanks News-Press.

After three weeks of the hearing I think the attorneys are getting to know each other's methods of operation. During his cross-examination of Keegan, Cappello started to preface a question with a statement but before he could finish NLRB attorney Brian Gee made an objection, prompting Cappello to look helplessly to the judge and say, "I haven't even asked a question yet." Gee immediately shot back, "He's going to." Everyone in the courtroom, including Judge Kocol, broke out laughing.

For the complete rundown on Wednesday's proceedings, see the article in today's Daily Sound.

* * *

So which story drew more interest on the Daily Sound's website, the News-Press/NLRB hearing or the article about the Double-Trouble Twins?

As of 11 pm Wednesday, the story about the twin sisters arrested for burglary had 55 reader comments. The article on the News-Press hearing, posted the same day, which involves a community institution and implicates First Amendment rights, had only one.

I guess readers are justifiably concerned when the only thing hotter than the stolen merchandise is the alleged thieves.

Return to top of page       E-Mail Me       Print This Page