Tuesday, March 25, 2008

For The News-Press Eight It's Stand By and Wait

The long awaited hearing on whether the News-Press 8 should be reinstated finally happened yesterday. Hopefully we won't have to wait as long for the decision as we waited for the hearing.

There's a full news article from the AP wire service that is posted on the Santa Maria Times website. So I'll just concentrate on the color commentary.

One of the biggest surprises of the hearing, which was actually revealed by the legal briefs filed in the case, is that Wendy McCaw has hired yet another law firm to represent the News-Press.

This time it's the venerable old-line L.A. firm of O'Melveny & Myers.

Barry Cappello is still in the picture and Cappello was in federal court in L.A. Monday afternoon for the hearing, along with his associate Dugan Kelly, but the guy who did all of the talking on behalf of the News-Press was O'Melveny partner (and UCSB grad) Framroze Virjee. According to the O'Melveny website Virjee is an employment and labor law specialist.

Present at the hearing representing the NLRB, the agency that is seeking the reinstatement order, were staff attorneys Steve Wyllie and Brian Gee, the two attorney's who so ably represented the agency at last summer's NLRB hearing in Santa Barbara.

Also present, but not addressing the court, was Teamster attorney Ira Gottlieb.

The bulk of the argument was spent on the First Amendment issue which goes something like this; at a newspaper the right to freedom of speech is that of the publisher, so forcing her to rehire certain reporters infringes on that freedom of speech. (Of course that's an argument that didn't fly in last summer's NLRB hearings before Judge Kocol.)

Those watching the clock in the courtroom noted that the News-Press' attorney spent more time at the podium answering the judge's questions than Wyllie of the NLRB did. However, according to at least one seasoned courtroom observer, that doesn't necessarily bode well for the party that is getting all of the judge's attention.

By all accounts, Judge Steven Wilson seemed to have a good grasp of what the case is about. As to when he'll rule is anybody's guess, but if I were a betting man, I'd say it will be sooner rather than later.

Of course, reinstatement of the eight fired reporters is but one facet of the battle for unionization. And reinstatement is by no means the concluding chapter to this long saga. The union is still trying to negotiate a contract with the News-Press and that figures to be a long and contentious struggle.

* * *

Contrary to what KEYT reported on its newscasts at 5, 6 and 11 pm yesterday, Judge Wilson didn't "postpone" making his decision. Although the judge has the power to announce a ruling from the bench that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

Most lawyers would characterize what transpired Monday by saying that the case was argued and submitted to the court for a decision.

* * *

News-Press editorial page editor Travis Armstrong, is apparently away on vacation this week. Enjoy the peace and quiet.