Thursday, October 30, 2008

Judge to Wendy: "Pay Up"

My guess is that the biggest line-item in the budget at Wendy McCaw's News-Press these days is not newsprint nor ink, but rather money paid to lawyers. Both hers and those of the people she has gone after in court.

On Wednesday afternoon an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered McCaw to pay Susan Paterno $159,436 in attorney's fees and costs.

McCaw had sued Paterno who had authored an article that appeared in the December 2006 edition of the American Journalism Review entitled, "Santa Barbara Smackdown" The article offered a behind-the-scenes look at the turmoil embroiling the News-Press. The article described McCaw's efforts to silence criticism by filing or threatening to file libel lawsuits. McCaw through Ampersand Publishing, her wholly owned corporation which in turn owns the Santa Barbara News-Press, had alleged that Paterno had committed libel and trade disparagement.

Paterno filed a motion to dismiss the suit under California's anti-SLAPP statute. "SLAPP" is an acronym for strategic lawsuit against public participation. The purpose of the anti-SLAPP law is to protect individuals from being dragged through the courts because they exercised their constitutional rights.

Paterno won her SLAPP motion which entitled her to recover the attorney's fees and costs she had expended in defending against McCaw's lawsuit.

According to Shelly Hurwitz of the firm of Holland & Knight in Los Angeles, who represents Paterno in the lawsuit, Paterno had asked for approximately $307,000 in fees, so the judge's award represents a little over half of what she requested.

So, let's just assume for the moment that McCaw spent roughly the same amount in prosecuting this lawsuit that went nowhere that Paterno expended in defending it. That would mean that McCaw's bill for legal fees, both her own and those of Paterno, approached nearly half a million dollars.

That comes directly on the heels of yesterday's news that McCaw and the City of Santa Barbara settled her lawsuit against it for a violation of the Brown Act with a condition that each side was to be responsible for their own attorney's fees.

You could hire a lot of good reporters and editors and do a lot of good journalism with that kind of money. But Wendy McCaw seems to have other priorities these days.