Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jerry's Bill, $868,000

Make that, $868,685.88 to be precise. And that was before Wendy McCaw's attorneys filed their latest motion to have the arbitration between her wholly owned Ampersand Publishing and former Santa Barbara News-Press editor Jerry Roberts dismissed on grounds that the arbitrator failed to rule in a timely manner.

That figure of the amount of attorney's fees Roberts has incurred in defending himself from News-Press owner McCaw, comes from papers filed in court Monday by Roberts' attorneys opposing Ampersand's motion.

I guarantee you, Wendy's own attorney's fee bill from Barry Cappello and others is bound to be higher than Roberts' bills.

How could the costs be so high?

For starters, according to Roberts' attorneys, "Ampersand engaged in aggressive discovery, including the maximum number of depositions allowed by the arbitrator." The arbitration hearing itself consumed ten full days in December of 2007.

The reporter's transcript of that hearing consists of 2378 pages. More than 666 trial exhibits were introduced which exceed 2000 pages.

You will recall this all started shortly after Roberts resigned as editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press. Ampersand essentially blamed Roberts for all of the ensuing adverse publicity that allegedly damaged the reputation of the paper. It demanded that Roberts be ordered to pay $25 million in damages.

Last June, the arbitrator finally ruled that Ampersand failed to establish any of the claims it had brought against Roberts and that Roberts was the prevailing party and therefore entitled to recover his costs and attorney's fees from Ampersand.

Ampersand objected to the arbitrator's award but did not list "untimeliness" of the ruling as one of the grounds.

According to the latest filing, all of the issues have been determined by the arbitrator, save for the amount of attorney's fees Ampersand owes Roberts.

The latest papers filed in court on behalf of Roberts describes Ampersand's tactics as being "scurrilous."

"A party may not agree to arbitrate a dispute, participate fully in the arbitration of that dispute and then attempt to avoid the binding nature of the resulting award when the outcome is unfavorable."

On November 6 of last year, the American Arbitration Association (AAA) notified the parties that Ampersand was refusing to pay its arbitration fees and that if Roberts did not advance the fees owed by Ampersand the arbitration would be suspended or terminated. Because Roberts was unable to advance the fees (which were over $48,000) the arbitration was suspended by the AAA who notified the parties that unless the amounts owed by Ampersand were paid by February 11, the proceedings would be terminated.

On November 17th of last year, Roberts wrote to Ampersand inquiring into its intent with regard to payment of the fees owed. No response was received until Ampersand's motion to dismiss the arbitrator was filed in court on December 29.

Roberts argues the court must order the parties to continue to arbitrate as a matter of law.

The hearing on whether the arbitrator will remain on the case and whether the arbitration will continue to its final conclusion is now set for hearing in Santa Barbara Superior Court on February 11 before Judge James Brown.