Tuesday, October 30, 2007

After 38 Years He Was Still Puzzled

I would think that a federal judge in L.A. who's spent 38 years on the bench and is a Nixon appointee to boot is a pretty dispassionate observer when it comes to our local newspaper wars here in Santa Barbara.

So it must have been somewhat disheartening for News-Press owner Wendy McCaw's lawyers to hear Judge Edward Rafeedie open up yesterday's hearing on the parties' respective motions for summary judgment by questioning the wisdom of McCaw bringing a case against the Santa Barbara Independent.

The News-Press vs. Independent case was the third of three cases he heard arguments on Monday morning. Both parties were making motions the object of which was to see if they could get the other side's case pared down, and in the case of the Indy, to see if they could get the News-Press' claims knocked out altogether.

When Judge Rafeedie, who looked more like a Pope than a judge, took the bench he noted the upcoming 38th anniversary of his appointment to the federal court and stated "I continue to be amazed how people continue to sue each other through litigation that will yield nothing and will cost money."

Some of us in the courtroom openly wondered if he had the News-Press' case against the Indy in mind. About 45 minutes later when the News-Press v. Indy matter was finally called the judge removed all doubt about what he was referring to.

This is the case I referred to. This appears purposeless. Why can't you people settle this? Are these people intransigent and they want to bury the axe in the other guy's head?

I guess he doesn't know Wendy.

The judge went on to ask the question many of us have been asking ever since last October when the News-Press filed its suit against the Indy for copyright infringement; "Where's the damage?"

If News-Press attorney Stanton Stein had an answer to that question, I didn't hear it. And I was paying pretty close attention.

Instead he talked about there being a "conspiracy" against the News-Press. In light of the fact that the complaint he drafted on behalf of McCaw's paper alleged violations of copyright law, the California trade secrets act and accused the Indy of interfering with the News-Press' prospective economic advantage and contracts but never said a word about "conspiracy," that argument didn't appear to go very far with the judge.

When it was all said and done it appeared that the only claim of the News-Press' that would survive would be its claim of copyright infringement.

But even that got left up in the air. The judge, who quite frankly appeared confused at some times about the facts, ended the hearing shortly before noon Monday saying that he was taking the case under submission. In other words, he's going to think about it some more before issuing a final ruling.

In the courtroom to observe the proceedings Monday were union attorney Ira Gottlieb and the Independent's President and Publisher Randy Campbell.

No reporters from the News-Press or the Independent were present to cover the hearing.

Today's edition of the Daily Sound has an article on yesterday's proceedings that was written by one of the paper's stringers.

Gottlieb has a stake in the case. Union members Melinda Burns and Rob Kuznia are scheduled to be deposed in the federal lawsuit on November 1st as the News-Press tries to determine who, if anyone, gave the Indy's Nick Welsh a copy of the "arbitration" story that the News-Press is claiming that the Indy stole. A dismissal of that claim, as the Independent is arguing for, would make the depositions unnecessary.

No one from the News-Press was present at Monday's hearing. Perhaps Wendy had her hands full? I have learned that elsewhere in L.A. on Monday the arbitration of her case with her former lover and attorney Greg Parker finally got underway. This was a case where Parker won a sizable judgment from her the first time around only to have it overturned on the ground that their arbitration agreement called for a panel of three arbitrators as opposed to the single arbitrator who decided the case.

So what court has the tighter security, the Federal Courthouse in Los Angeles or our local bankruptcy court, which is also a federal court, where the recent NLRB hearing was held?

I'd say it's our bankruptcy court. The court security officers there required me to remove my shoes when passing through the metal detector and my cell phone, which has a camera, had to be left in the car. Didn't need to remove my shoes at the courthouse in L.A. and I found out too late, that I could have brought my cell phone into the courtroom with me.

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